Routes into Employment in the Voluntary Sector

The first thing to recognise is there is no ‘traditional’ route to becoming involved.

The Voluntary Sector in Scotland is incredibly diverse with 45,000 organisations employing 138,000 people. They earn a living in areas including social care, human services, environment, heritage, sports, arts, culture, credit unions, campaigning, health, community work, village halls, faith groups, housing, animals and education. The sector also has the support of 250,000 unpaid Trustees and 1.3million volunteers

The following data shows the shape of the ‘regulated third sector’ where most of the employment occurs, and which encompasses around half of all voluntary organisations, including a sub-set of 19,635 charities from the Office of the Scottish Charitable Regulator (OSCR), plus additional information on 162 housing associations and 107 credit unions.

  • The regulated third sector’s total income rose to its highest ever level, reaching almost £5 billion in 2013
  • Total expenditure on the services provided by the sector and the people it supports also rose to a record level of £4.7 billion
  • Turnover is now greater than the Scottish beverage industry (£4.5 billion) and equal to the Scottish creative industries (£5 billion)
  • The sector employs 138,000 people – as many people as the Creative Industries and the Energy Sector put together
  • The largest 4% of organisations employ 73% of the sector’s staff. Social care-related organisations are the major employer, followed by housing and health.

With such scale and diversity therefore scope exists for anyone to seek employment within the sector and it’s important to recognise no fixed formulae or qualifications are likely to be replicated between organisations. Minimal exceptions to that would be where organisations require qualified accountants to maintain significant financial records or, in the case of legal services, require qualified lawyers. However the majority of jobs including i.e. development, fundraising, campaigning, advocacy, environment, policy etc. attract people with a wide range of educational attainment and wider life experience. Of course, previous professional study will enhance a job candidate’s skill transferability but it is often the case people successfully gain work in areas that genuinely interest them and not necessarily directly related to their earlier career or qualifications.

In the field of social care – the largest sub sector, common qualifications could include social work and nursing however a requirement on the employer is to ensure all care staff are qualified or qualifying. Therefore people with appropriate personalities and aptitudes are often recruited and engaged (by the employer) in the Scottish Vocational Qualification structure as part of their employment contract. This work based study approach provides opportunities for employees to incrementally improve their qualifications by climbing the levels (from 1-5) and in the process their career prospects.

Routes for Involvement

  1. Traditional: Learn of a job advertisement through or other advertising media. Apply and seek interview.
  2. Learn of a charity seeking particular skills from a Trustee or existing member of staff. Seek early discussion with senior staff. This is not likely a ‘backdoor’ as most well governed charities will apply equal opportunities and advertise posts publicly. However being proactive is always advantageous.
  3. From an unemployed position seek a volunteering opportunity. Many charities lean heavily on generous spirited people and it is not uncommon regular committed volunteers can be considered for posts as they become available. This may initially be sessional work but can lead to part-time then full time involvement. It is also very clear that people who are volunteering in a charitable setting are viewed as more employable in the wider jobs market (they can also provide up to date references etc.)
  4. Many people are eligible for government support to access employment. Significant schemes, such as SCVO’s Community Jobs Scotland, provide funding for charities to create 6-12 month salaried posts. Currently 700 Scottish charities participate in the scheme which involved thousands of people. Details of this scheme can be found on the here.
  5. From an employed position (in whatever area of work) follow a similar route via volunteering, to sessional, to part-time or full time. This approach is very suitable for career changers who can change course in a planned manner without risk of income gaps. Importantly this route allows people to choose what kind of work they want to do through a considered approach.