If you are an HR manager in the voluntary and community sector, the chances are that you are struggling to recruit for those ever-
vacant posts, or failing to plug the glaringly obvious skills gaps. But don't think that you are alone.
According to information from Vol-Resource and the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, the voluntary and community - or 'third' - sector employs one in 50 of us in the UK, which is more than half a million people. And three million volunteers regularly donate their time and efforts. HR clearly has a huge resource on its hands, but unfortunately, the problems are just as big.
A 2004 study called People Count, by Agenda Consulting and the Charities HR Network, suggests that third-sector employers have to recruit nearly a quarter of their operational staff each year, compared with just 15% in the public and private sectors.
Amy McLaren, PR and media officer at the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, says high turnover causes a drain on resources.
"In 2002, it cost an average of 4,301 to replace a member of staff, but this didn't include the costs of covering the gap, management costs or the lowered morale and additional stress for other employees. When these are included, the costs could be as much as half a year's salary," she says.
Replacing those who leave is hard work. The Voluntary Sector National Training Organisation states that one in two organisations have difficulty recruiting staff. Reasons given for this include few or no applicants, a lack of experienced, qualified or skilled applicants and the low salaries on offer. And keeping hold of staff is just as difficult. The People Count report shows that on average, employees stay with third-sector organisations for two and a half years, compared with five years for other sectors.
Traditionally, the third sector has suffered from short-term funding that sacrifices investment in staff in favour of knee-jerk organisational survival. If managers are spending all their time trying to keep the organisation running, scrabbling for funding and kicking off projects, investment in staff is the last thing on their minds. And a multiplicity of stakeholders - service users, users' advocates, trustees, funders, volunteers and suppliers - can create tensions within the organisation itself.
McLaren believes that the third sector has gained a reputation for being a poor employer. "Some organisations tend to prioritise serving the