According to the Workforce Hub's Voluntary Sector Skills Survey 2007, which is published today, 29 per cent of charities report that they employ staff they consider to be under-skilled.
The area with the greatest skills shortage is marketing, according to the report. Of almost 2,000 charities in England consulted by the authors of the report, 16 per cent say their marketing staff lack skills. Skills gaps in fundraising are reported by 15 per cent of organisations.
"Skills gaps have a detrimental impact on the organisation and its employees, particularly through the increased workload placed on other employees and volunteers," the report says.
"Increasing expectations on voluntary sector organisations to function as high-performing private businesses, combined with changing working practices and high turnover rates, make it increasingly difficult to recruit, retain and train a fully skilled workforce."
The research also shows a serious lack of resources for training. The report estimates that 157,000 employees - more than a quarter of workers in the sector - are employed by organisations that do not formally assess training needs.
Of charities with skills gaps, 47 per cent say there is not enough time available to develop employees. Fifty-seven per cent say they have insufficient funding to train staff. The report says the issue affects almost 100,000 employees across the sector, which is 17 per cent of the voluntary sector's total workforce.
Jenny Clark, author of the report and research officer at the Workforce Hub, said the findings did not show that charities were employing staff who were incapable of doing their jobs.
"So many people in so many organisations have to use lots of skills, so it might be that it is one particular skill they need," she said.
"It does not mean they are completely unskilled, but there are areas in which they need development."
One contributory factor to the problem has been the rapid growth in size of the sector over the past decade, Clark added (see story below).
The Shaw Trust has spent the past three years overhauling its approach to training and staff development.
The organisation provides employment opportunities for people who are disadvantaged in the workplace and employs about 1,300 staff. It has centralised its training provision and employed specialist learning and development consultants to help identify skills gaps and commission the appropriate measures to plug those holes. Consultants are charged with overseeing training in different departments of the organisation.
Juliet Adams, national learning and development manager at the trust, says: "We're looking at staff receiving an average of 10 or so training days a year. Having staff who ask the right questions about training means we can direct it much more efficiently."