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Recruitment problems biggest in the north of England – & among larger organisations

Melanie May | 14 December 2022 | News

Two women of colour talk across a table in front of a window. By Christina @ wocintechchat.com

Over the last two years, 20% of Third Sector employers have found it harder to retain staff and 43% have experienced recruitment problems – with the problem the biggest in the north of England, and in Wales, according to new research.

Published today, Third-Sector-Trends-in-England-and-Wales-2022-employees-volunteers-diversity-and-investment-in-people-December-2022, reports back on 6,071 responses from the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector in England and Wales. Third Sector Trends has been surveying the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector every three years since 2010 with this the second of five reports from Third Sector Trends England and Wales 2022.

It reveals that problems with recruitment are widespread across England and Wales – but most intense in North East England where 54% of employers have experienced problems, North West England (48%) and Wales (46%).


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Recruitment problems are most severe in the largest organisations: 79% of respondents with income between £1million and £25million are experiencing recruitment problems compared with 31% of the smallest employers (with income between £50,000-£100,000).

Retention is also an issue, again particularly in North East England (25%) and in the biggest organisations (53%). Organisations delivering public services under contract for government departments or local authorities find retention the most challenging at 27%, compared to 15% of those who don’t.

Rob Williamson, Chief Executive of the Community Foundation said:

“We have seen issues of recruitment across many sectors in the UK, the NHS perhaps being the highest profile, but it is clear it is hitting the charitable sector hard too and our communities will suffer. The last three years have seen the sector step up to support the most vulnerable in our communities, first during covid and now the cost-of-living crisis, but they are burnt out and many are leaving. With increased costs and reduced funding, organisations aren’t always able to pay high enough wages to attract staff. We and many other funders are looking at how we can support them to raise wages and cover costs. Our cost-of-living fund is supporting organisations over the winter to do that – but more needs to be done”

Volunteer workforce

According to the report, the sector has a paid workforce of about 1.1 million people and about 4.3 million regular volunteers. In workload terms, it says, this is equivalent to 190,000 full-time equivalent employees.

Reliance on volunteers is great:

However, over a quarter of organisations (26%) have been losing volunteers who joined them during the Coronavirus pandemic.  Again, this is worse for the biggest organisations with 41% losing these volunteers compared with 18% of the smallest.

The composition of the volunteer workforce has also been changing in the last two years.

17% of organisations also report falling numbers of trustees over the last two years – particularly in North East England, East of England, South West England and in Wales (all with net losses of trustees between 3-5%).

Diversity in leadership

The data suggests some improvement to diversity in leadership since 2019 with the percentage of female Chairs increasing from 43-46%. There are also more Chairs with disabilities – rising from 9-12%, and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Chairs have also risen slightly, from 6-8%. However, the proportion of graduate Chairs has also increased, from 64-70%, suggesting that leadership opportunities for non-graduates at board level have worsened.

Investing in people

The report notes that attracting and retaining people to work in organisations may be affected by the quality of the working environment and the organisational commitment to training and personal development opportunities. However, it found the overall provision of support for staff and volunteers to be ‘quite limited’ – with organisational size (and therefore budget) making a difference.

It found:

The report’s author, Professor Tony Chapman, St Chad’s College, Durham University said:

“This is an especially difficult time for many Third Sector organisations with rising inflation, high energy costs and rising demand for services. About 40 per cent of Voluntary and community organisations and social enterprises are employers. Many of them are now facing serious problems associated with staff recruitment and retention. The report’s findings indicate that tackling the issue of traditionally low pay in the Third Sector is becoming an urgent priority.”

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