Headlines: October 27th, 2008

A new Third Sector skills body has been launched to plug the skills gaps and shortages in charities, voluntary groups, social enterprises and other third sector organisation. Last month the Office of the Third Sector, which is part of the Cabinet Office, published research which showed that growth of the sector had stalled and new people had not been attracted to seek jobs.

The new body is expected to bring some cohesion to tackling the workforce problems of the third sector which currently is served by twelve Sector Skills Councils. The problem with the current system is that the third sector’s workforce represents only a small proportion of the overall workforce covered by the different councils. This means that it is not possible to exert any real influence over the council and the result is that skills needs are not being met. The new body will pull together the work of the sector councils to open up learning opportunities for third sector paid and voluntary staff.

An early task will be to ensure that the sector’s needs are properly considered in the design and development of National Occupational Standards, which define the competences for job roles or occupations in the form of statements of performance, knowledge and the evidence required to confirm competence. It will also be involved in the design of Apprenticeship Frameworks and Sector Qualification Strategies.

The voluntary and community sector in the UK has a paid workforce of about 608,000, which is 2.2 per cent of the UK’s paid workforce. Social enterprise companies employ around 450,000 paid employees and almost 300,000 volunteers. Overall about 11.6 million people participate in formal voluntary activity at least once a month. The skills of volunteers are as important for the performance and prospects of organisations as are the skills of the paid workforce.

The creation of the new body is part of the strategy by the Office of the Third Sector to boost the capacity of charities, voluntary groups and social enterprises. A vibrant third sector is essential if the government is to achieve its aim of placing greater reliance on the sector to deliver public services. The research report concluded that there is very little awareness of the sector and high levels of confusion about the difference between a charity and a social enterprise. Organisations within the sector were characterised as vague, woolly, confused, rooted in small cottage industry, worthy, inefficient, not dynamic and grant dependant.