The voluntary sector workforce grew by 5 per cent in the final quarter of 2011, reversing a decline of the previous 12 months, analysis of latest employment figures shows.
The total number of people working in the sector stands at 759,000, up 36,000 on the previous quarter.
The findings, published today, come from an analysis of the Labour Force Survey by the Third Sector Research Centre and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, in partnership with Skills – Third Sector.
The biggest increases during the period were in London, where there were 6,000 more voluntary sector employees than in the previous three months, and in the west midlands, where the figure had risen by 7,000.
Despite the increase in the final quarter of 2011, the voluntary sector workforce fell by 4 per cent between December 2010 and December 2011, from 793,000 to 759,000.
Meanwhile, the number of voluntary sector employees receiving job-related training rose to 306,000 in the final quarter of 2011, a 14 per cent increase on the previous quarter.
The figures contrast with the fortunes of the private and public sectors.
During the same period, employment in the private sector grew by less than 1 per cent, while the public sector workforce declined slightly by less than 1 per cent.
Keith Mogford, chief executive of Skills – Third Sector, said the figures "give reason for cautious optimism".
"We are particularly encouraged by the figures that suggest the sector is strengthening its commitment to training and workforce development, despite the financial pressures it faces," he said. "Investing in training undoubtedly brings benefits to organisations and individuals, and we urge organisations to continue to strengthen this activity."
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said the research highlighted the "valuable contribution that the sector makes to the UK economy"."However, this is clearly no time for complacency," he said. "As we move forward into this new financial year it will be essential that government and voluntary organisations work closely together to mitigate the impact of cuts and support development and innovation."