The third way

Staff
in the voluntary sector have traditionally been under-valued and under-paid.
But all that will have to change if the sector is to compete for the best
people. Mike Berry reports

Recruiting
and retaining top quality staff on dwindling budgets is a constant challenge
for most businesses in both the private and public sectors. But for companies
in the ‘third’ sector – charities, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations –
this challenge is magnified.

According
to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), in 2002, half of
third sector organisations reported difficulties in recruiting and retaining
staff. Employee turnover for the larger organisations was running at 22 per
cent, it said, compared to 15 per cent in the private sector.

It
also reported that skills shortages in key areas, such as management and
business planning, were proving a barrier to growth for many of these
organisations.

These
difficulties become more acute when you consider the substantial contribution
that the third sector contributes to the UK economy. It is a major employer (a
workforce of around 569,000 paid employees working for around 98,000 charities)
and contributes more than £7bn to the GDP of the UK.

A
report by think-tank nfpSynergy last year, said the voluntary sector would face
serious skills shortages if it failed to keep up with social and economic
changes in the UK.

The
report said the sector could find it especially difficult to fill vacant positions
because of its record for low pay. It predicted that graduates might be driven
to seek higher-pay alternatives in a bid to clear their debts.

The
report added that charities based in locations with high property prices might
well be forced to adopt subsidised housing schemes for young key workers, like
their public sector counterparts.

However,
over the past 12 months the outlook has started to brighten. Remuneration
Economics’ annual voluntary sector survey shows salaries have increased by an
average rate of 6.1 per cent, and the number of organisations experiencing
recruitment problems has decreased from 66 per cent to 59 per cent.

Jenny
Downes, HR manager at Asthma UK, agrees that recruitment difficulties have
eased: “We don’t have too many problems. We know as a company we have to look
at alternatives to salary and focus on work-life balance.

“We
invest in the training and development of our people and try to publicise the
positive aspects of the job.”

The
real problem, she says, is retaining staff. She admits that within voluntary
organisations there can be limited opportunities for people to progress.

“Usually
young and ambitious people leave because there is nowhere to go. So succession
planning and keeping people is the real challenge for us.”

Downes
says the third sector needs to compete with the commercial world to hang onto
its best people.

“Organisations
have to be very flexible, look at what skills people have and how best to
utilise them,” she says.

Stuart
Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, agrees that a perceived lack of
career prospects continues to undermine staff retention.

“Voluntary
organisations must consider how they can offer the kind of personal and career
development opportunities that will enable them to hold onto staff,” he says.

The
third sector’s role is expanding in influence in the UK, but long-term
preparation is the key, according to the NCVO. Clearly, effective recruitment
and retention strategies are vital if a voluntary organisation is to prosper.

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