Routes Into and Through the Social Sector

Led by Keith Mogford & Rachel Whale

When talking about skills in the social sector it is perhaps inevitable that talent attraction and retention should be central concerns, as they are throughout the UK economy.  How to recruit the capable people with a mindset to learn, and how to develop and retain them, is a challenge in organisations of all types and sizes.  

Where will the next leaders of the social sector come from? What experiences will they have by way of development and how will that impact on their outlook and decisions?


What can we do to ensure that people capable of leading organisations confronting huge social problems find their way into the sector in the first place, and then are motivated and encouraged to stay there long enough to make a difference?  How can the sector actively attract and recruit more young people, not just graduates but also school leavers?

Our conversations during the past few months as part of this Review have confirmed two things.

  • Firstly, there is a belief that the sector is a wonderful place to work and it deserves to be promoted as a career of choice to ambitious, talented people.
  • Secondly, a conviction that if the social sector is made accessible, fertile ground in which to develop a career, then we stand to see a step change in terms of how the sector is perceived, how it performs, and how it competes.

Here we have outlined what we believe to be the underpinning issues that need addressing in order to respond to this: entry into the sector, unclear pathways, introspection, and not being limited by ‘the sector’. Further to that, we include some of the resources that already exist that could contribute towards a solution, together with recommendations for change at both an operational and strategic level.

Common Issues Arising in Entry to work in the Social Sector

1. Getting a Foot in the Door is Hard

  • Getting a foot in the door of the sector can be tremendously hard, especially for those candidates who cannot afford internships, years abroad or who do not immediately stand out from the crowd with first class qualifications. Even if employers are interested in hiring for attitude and potential and training for skills, practice suggests that even when this is demonstrated at interview stage, getting beyond first stage application still requires a level of experience for entry level jobs.
  • This is partly because the sector lacks clear starting or entry points. For prospective managers there are insufficient first roles with developmental prospects.  For young people leaving school at 16 or 19 the sector lacks a strategic approach to creating Apprenticeships; and recruitment to those entry level roles/traineeships that do exist places a false value on experience and ends up recruiting people who are over-qualified for their role.
  • The sector recruits less school leavers at both 16 and 19 proportionately than do either the public or private sectors. (UKCES National Employer Skills Survey 2011).
  • As a sector, or as communities of employers operating in the same delivery sectors, we don’t tend to come together and recruit strategically.   We lack a coherent, integrated and compelling message and promotion activities centred on a narrative about values that target people who may be interested in our sector(s) as a career of choice.
  • As a sector of employers we tend not to target specific demographic groups to address strategic talent and skills gaps. There are few examples of where the sector or employers tailor their recruitment practices to appeal to specific groups such as young people, gender or BAME communities.
  • Some of us would also argue that we place too much value in experience over attitude, competence and potential. Too often our recruitment methods require experience levels that are off putting at best and at times excluding for young people early in their working life, especially those from diverse backgrounds. Moreover it appears that the position is getting worse, with the increased emphasis on project and contract funding increasing a tendency for employers to look to bring in short term experienced project managers who can make an immediate impact on delivering against project outcomes, rather than investing in the longer term development and potential of existing staff or young people.

2. Career Pathways are Unclear

  • While we talk openly about the sector as a challenging and stimulating place to work, as a sector we struggle to articulate clear career pathways or routes through the sector. We never explain how ‘if you start here you could end up here in x number of years’, or ‘if you want to be x in y number of years these are the things to think about now’.
  • Career routes in the sector are legitimately not always linear but need to be better understood in order to articulate options and prospects
  • If we want to be seen as a career of choice we need to be able to articulate the career opportunities and journeys in our sector to people with ambition.

There seems to be a reluctance to invest in employees who are seen as future managers, anecdotal evidence suggests this is connected to a view that individuals may leave the organisation to seek new opportunities. This exposes the sector to an over-dependence on imported managerial talent or a reliance upon existing staff not necessarily suited to new challenges Non-profit sector employers rarely provide development opportunities aimed at future managers (76% of organisations stated that they trained managers, but only 17% trained elementary Skills-Third Sector Workforce Almanac 2011)

3. It feels hard to connect beyond our own organisations

  • Once working inside a non-profit organisation colleagues, and especially middle managers, are often so absorbed in the day to day running of the organisation that finding the time to look beyond their job and connecting more widely across the sector is often difficult.

4. Is it time to think beyond the “sector”?

  • Organisations do not always recognise that people engaging in social action are increasingly seeking to do this from where they already are. You do not need to work for a registered charity to do social good, you can use other networks to achieve outcomes and more frequently it is possible for people to leverage social action from where they already work. Many people in businesses look to use that business as a platform from which to undertake socially motivated work. Non-profit organisations need to think beyond their own organisations and about how they connect with people in diverse settings to ensure social change happens. If this doesn’t happen we will limit innovation and our ability to progress mission and vision and the potential for more diverse entry points into social sector based employment.


Resources & Existing Programmes



The National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) provides information and support to employers considering recruiting an apprentice, including details of the £1,500 grant available to employers recruiting a young apprentice (16-24).  NAS has officers with designated lead responsibilities for the social sector. Apprenticeship Frameworks in roles specific to the social sector have been developed by Skills-Third Sector. The frameworks are in Fundraising, Campaigning and Volunteer Management.

FairTrain is the Group Training Association specific to the sector that supports employers in accessing training and other support related to apprenticeships with guarantees on quality.

Change Makers is a leadership programme that aims to unlock the leadership potential of young people. Offers a 3 month leadership programme, of training, coaching, peer support and real world leadership experiences, placing young people (16-25) in real situations with opportunities to lead and in the process develop a new generation of leaders.

City Year is the leading youth and education charity in London and runs a volunteering scheme. Young people that join City Year dedicate a year to volunteering full time in schools as tutors, mentors and role models and City Year aims to have a transformative effect on the lives of the children that they work with, and also the lives of the volunteers that serve with them.

Create Foundation is a social enterprise that runs an innovative work based mentoring program and creates jobs for the most marginalized people.  Create Academy consists of 12 week personalized work programme in a safe, supportive environment. Trainees are provided with quality training, hands- on work experience, opportunity to gain nationally recognized qualifications (certificate in food hygiene and health and safety) and mentoring (mentors help with reviewing CVs, providing references and helping in job search).

Dare2Lead offers training programmes, motivational speakers and consultancy/support offered to organisations (such as vInspired). They aim to encourage leaders – especially young people – through programmes delivered by trained leaders.

PopUp Talent is a personal and professional development programme. GoodPeople have teamed up with Foyer Federation and ChangeMakers to engage young people through the use of Pop Up events held in familiar places which will spark young people’s interest. Those who are keen may progress into the Talent Generator, a 12 week skills development programme which will help them find their passion and gain digital skills and from the Generator, these young people will have access to the Talent Pool where they will be connected to employers and opportunities


Trainee Programmes and Work Experience

Fair Train has just started a UKCES funded two year project “Employer Pathways to a skills Youth Workforce in the Third Sector” that aims to  provide a sector-specific, high quality Work Experience and Intern brokerage service, provided through a quality assured framework and including support for line managers and supervisors in managing the young person on either a Work Experience placement or Internship effectively.

UpRising is a leadership programme aimed at inspiring people from diverse backgrounds to become the future leaders of society. Trains young people from four key areas to work on a specific local campaign, as well as introducing them to leaders within the public and private spheres.

YearHere is a graduate scheme offering placement, training and leadership development. Year Here is a social enterprise; offering an alternative to traditional gap years, it challenges ambitious and entrepreneurial young people to a 6-month fellowship tackling social issues in their own backyard, including training, social entrepreneurship project and professional placement. It partners with Teach First, Citizens UK and Social Investment Business.



Charityworks is dedicated to finding and developing future leaders for the non profit sector through its national graduate development programme, which is open to any charity, housing association or social enterprise regardless of size or turnover. Delivered through a collaborative model, graduates are employed to deliver a real job for 12 months whilst taking part in an ILM accredited management training programme, delivering 3 original pieces of research and accessing support from a mentor, peers and sector-wide networks.

Community Care Graduate Training Scheme this Scheme is part of the Skills Academy’s mission to promote and foster high quality leadership and management, funded by the Department of Health. This programme is for graduates interested in a management career in adult social care. The scheme provides a 12 month bursary, training programme and placement.

Entrepreneur First is a programme designed for top graduates who want to create disruptive, high-growth businesses as soon as they leave university. Selected candidates will become part of a group, from which they can build a team and Entrepreneur First will help them build their team as well as providing them with mentors, training, other ambitious entrepreneurs and access to funding. The scheme runs for one year and is unpaid.

People and the Planet is the UK’s largest student network campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment, based in Oxford. Their 11 month long paid  internship scheme focuses on developing campaigning skills.

Student Hubs is a registered charity and through their graduate programme they are offering 12 opportunities for high-performing graduates who want to develop a career in the not-for-profit sector. The programme is a fully funded 10 month placement, guaranteeing graduates a wide range of experience across the organisation including working on programmes, communications, fundraising, events management and business development.

Cancer Research UK is the largest fundraising charity in the UK, whose research aims to delivers the breakthroughs which prevent, control and cure cancer. They run a 2 year long paid graduate training schemes in science and research, corporate services, fundraising and marketing, communications, information technology and all graduates receive training and development.

Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 3 million supporters, members and activists in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights. They recruit unpaid interns for their International Secretariat (IS) offices in London, Geneva and New York. Interns work for six-month periods carrying out administrative and project-related work.

Barnardo’s aims to transform the lives of vulnerable children across the UK through the work of projects, campaigning and research expertise. They offer a variety of unpaid 12 week long internships in a number of departments across the UK. The internships focus on marketing, finance, policy and research, campaigns and communication, children services and retail.

The British Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organisation that helps people in crisis, “whoever and wherever they are”. They run a selection of 8-12 week long unpaid internships in a variety of locations around the UK, with a focus on Fundraising

The Charities Advisory Trust is dedicated to finding practical methods of redressing inequalities and injustice. They provide short paid internships (October to December) or early-entry ‘advanced’ internships (of varying length), focusing on the Card Aid service, for those who have two years’ work experience post-graduation.

Dyslexia Action is a national charity that takes action to change the lives of people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties. They offer a voluntary unpaid internship scheme that covers a range of departments within the organisation.

Macmillan Cancer Support provides practical, medical and financial support and push for better cancer care. They have an unpaid internship scheme focusing on events, communications and fundraising.

Oxfam is a global movement of people working towards a world without poverty. It offers unpaid internships lasting between three and six months and a long-term internship lasting between six and twelve months in different locations and areas of the organisation.

Look Ahead is a housing association that supports around 6,000 people across London and the South East each year. They run a 12 month paid programme that provides specialised training based in services or business areas of Look Ahead’s work and encourages participants to work towards their Management Foundation Programme award.

Sanctuary is a housing association which builds a range of new developments from housing to care homes, student accommodation to office buildings. They run a paid programme, that lasts between 18-24 months, and there are two parts to the scheme – an introductory programme and then rotational business placements; these placements occur within Central Services, Housing, Property Services, Sanctuary Care and Sanctuary Management Services.



Prospects focus on providing advice on the best way to get a job within the sector and advertise current vacancies within the 3rd sector.

Graduate Recruitment

Graduate Recruitment Bureau 

Milkround is large website advertising vacancies and schemes aimed at graduates. Recently updated their website, and beginning to offer more jobs in the non-profit sector, now including a whole page overview of the sector.



Common Purpose is an international, not-for-profit organisation which runs leadership development courses which mix people from the private, public and not-for-profit sectors”.

Charity Next is an initiative to improve understanding between the sectors through secondments. Charity Next gives (graduates) leaders and future leaders in the private and public sectors the opportunity to contribute their skills and enthusiasm to key posts in the voluntary sector, in order to facilitate an exchange of expertise, build greater mutual understanding and encourage closer working.

Clore Social Leadership Programme offers an individualised  Fellowship leadership development programme for future leaders in charities, social enterprises and community organisations.  Is now building a network with the wider Fellowship as the earlier Fellows complete the development programme.  Annual intake from open online selection process.

Clore offer a variety of training programmes for the future leaders and current managers within the arts sector.  The programme was created in partnership with Arts Council England,  Clore Duffield Foundation and  a number of other art councils and art related institutions.

Good People is a platform for sharing ideas, opportunities and mentoring. Funded by the Cabinet Office, Good People is a free peer-to-peer platform for posting ideas, jobs, internships and voluntary opportunities. The aim is for to become an essential tool for anyone who wants to use their time, skills & networks as a force for good.

IVO is an on line platform for connecting people and organisations that want to change their world. Open to anyone interested in volunteering time, sharing ideas, networking with social activists, accessing resources.

TSRC is a sector focussed research body. Currently running a research project exploring the nature of careers in the sector.

Skills-Third Sector is an independent charity working to support the development of a sector workforce that is ambitious, skilled and adaptable in achieving the objectives of the organisations they work for and the communities they serve. It has four current developments that will all enhance the recruitment and development of talent in the sector:

  1. The Skills Platform – a highly interactive web platform designed to support organisations and people in the sector to access training and development opportunities in a more informed way and to enable the sharing of training and development resources across the sector via an online marketplace and information source.  Due to be online in September 2013.
  2. Skills Clubs.  These are a brand new idea and initiative aimed at facilitating collaboration between employers in the sector
  3. Developing resources for articulating example career pathways in the sector (part of the work arising from the Leadership 20:20 Commission recommendations.
  4. Developing a leadership development framework specific to the sector.



There are many diverse networks available to people working in the non profit sector or people interested in social change. Here are a few all accessible through Linked In Groups:

Convergence, Charity UK, Good People, Civil Society Global Network, European Civil Society Leaders, Guardian Social Enterprise Network, Non Profit and Charity Network, Non Profit Management Professionals, Social Entrepreneurs, Social Entrepreneurs & The Third Sector, Social Impact Exchange, SocialEarth, Social Change Network, Third Sector Connector, Third Sector Women, UnLtd.



Prime Timers offers quality business and organisational expertise to work in partnership with charities, voluntary groups, social enterprises and other types of existing and emerging civil society organisations, to build their capacity and to achieve real social change. Also offers advice to executives who are in transition and who want to use their skills with social enterprises and charities.

Working for a Charity is run by NCVO, Working for a Charity aims to serve as a bridge for those wishing to transfer their skills to the voluntary sector through traininginformation and work experience; offers training courses, information and advice to career changers, returners to work and new graduates on how to transfer their skills effectively into the charity sector and the unique management issues they may face.

On Purpose is aimed at experienced and qualified professionals, On Purpose programme participants become Associates (throughout the programme) & Fellows (after graduation). The aim is to find and work with professionals at an early point in their career to grow the next generation of social enterprise leaders

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For Umbrella bodies, sub sector alliances, employers, funders, Government

SR 3.1  Implement a national graduate development programme and establish a TeachFirst equivalent for the non-profit sector.

SR 3.2  For individual employers that cannot support a ‘trainee’ or development placement alone, consider grouping to facilitate graduate/other entrants on structured schemes. Groups of employers/alliances eg disability, mental health.

SR 3.3  Encourage employers to actively consider collaborating to create development opportunities for their staff that they could not easily secure independently e.g. shared procurement of training; mentoring across organisations; developmental secondments across and between employers.

SR 3.4  Consider how strategically to develop more entry routes for 16 to 19 year olds, including Apprenticeships and Traineeships.



  1. Pingback: Social sector must be seen as a serious career path, says government review « Market Blok

  2. Pingback: The Evening Post - Social sector must be seen as a serious career path, says government review

  3. I am a recent graduate with a strong degree and some voluntary experience in a UN affiliated organisation, but I am almost always short of the required ‘two years’ work experience required for a lot of entry level jobs in the social sector. Thank you for this article – it is reassuring to hear that there is an acknowledgement of just how difficult it is for young people to pursue a career away from the business sector, which most graduate schemes seem to be aimed at.

  4. Hi Jennifer, thanks for sharing your experiences. I know some of these difficulties firsthand and hope that some of the resources listed above may be of help. It was interesting to see the recent news that charities are one of the most desirable career destinations for new graduates – – so hope this can be matched by more open career paths!

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