Bridging the skills gap: one approach that is proven to work

Many organisations rely on volunteers, but how can we turn some of them into the next generation of skilled staff? Photograph © Daniel Thornton on Flickr
Many organisations rely on volunteers, but how can we turn some of them into the next generation of skilled staff? Photograph © Daniel Thornton on Flickr

With skills shortages making the news, Qa Research Manager Rebecca Gulc reflects on one highly successful response to the challenge

qa-logo-square-cutout-60This is one of a monthly series of blogs exploring what we have learned from our research into helping improve services for people with mental health problems, children, young people and families, and those in later life
Here are two hot topics around young people and jobs. First, internships. We’ve all read stories about the high number of unpaid interns in popular industries like the media.

It even became a topic in the last election, with one of the major parties pledging to ban unpaid internships lasting longer than four weeks.

Secondly, skill shortages. The annual CBI/Pearson survey reported the concerns of many businesses that young people were not equipped for the world of work.

A third of employers were dissatisfied with graduates’ knowledge about their chosen career.

The idea, of course, is that internships will address that problem. Certainly the young people working for nothing do so in the hope they might learn enough and impress enough to secure a paid role.

So what happens in an industry where there are clear skill gaps? Do young people find it easier to get on the career ladder?

Based on some of our recent work, the simple answer is no. However, that can be changed to a resounding ‘yes’ with a relatively low-cost, targeted intervention.

The challenge

National organisations we have worked for have struggled to recruit people with the right skills, particularly for specialist roles.

The degrees and other qualifications of applicants sometimes are not enough. What is missing is specialist on-the-job learning.

The response

Organisations have successfully applied for pots of funding enabling them to offer paid traineeships in order to start bridging these skill gaps.

What we found

In our evaluation work we’ve learnt from speaking to trainees how hard it can be to secure even voluntary posts in competitive sectors.

When voluntary positions are secured the work can be very broad, with limited opportunity to specialise, or focus skills to the level the industry – and the paid posts – requires.

Ultimately this left the volunteers with two choices:

  • to continue to pursue and undertake voluntary work in the hope they would get lucky, or
  • to abandon their favoured career as a pipe dream and go and get a ‘real’ paying job.

How funding can help

Put through a wide range of training courses and mentored by experienced professionals, people can attain the skills needed to step onto the career ladder.

Being paid for their time helps retain enthusiastic individuals in a sector and such opportunities are often the first step in a career which they can flourish in.

The wider lessons

If you can pay potential employees enough money to get by, and provide them with focused training, you can bridge the skills gap.

The key is to turn those volunteers or interns with the most potential into trainees.

Volunteers are invaluable to any third sector organisation. But some of them could make the move from volunteer to star employee with the right support.