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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Comprehensive dialogue needed over skills issue, MP urges

The time is ripe for comprehensive dialogue over the best ways to attract, develop and keep skilled and resilient third sector workforces and leaders.

That was the key message from Government to third sector organisations at the charity and voluntary sector skills and people development conference held in London this week.

Nick Hurd MP, the Minister for Civil Society and keynote speaker at the conference addressed chief executives, trustees, senior managers, HR leaders and other sector representatives from charities and voluntary organisations following last month's announcement of an Office for Civil Society review into leadership and skills in the sector.

Hurd said: "The difference between success and failure, effective performance and mediocrity has always been about people and about leadership".

The Minister pledged a "swift and pragmatic" review involving not just in-house conversation but dialogue with external individuals and businesses who currently work with the third sector, or who would like to, in order to produce the "cohesive and effective strategy for skills and leadership" which he felt the sector currently lacks.

Reflecting on how proactive workforce development is critical to success, he said the sector's need to embrace recent "seismic" technological developments in order to bring transformational change to the way it mobilises people and creates income.

Looking ahead to the work of the review, he added: "We need to remain courageous in finding a more cohesive framework for developing skills and unlocking the potential for civil society to enable and help more people and give more people a voice."

Our People Our Skills Our Future was held at London's CBI Centre and was organised by independent charity Skills - Third Sector, as part of its ongoing work to support the development of an ambitious, skilled and adaptable third sector workforce.

Dame Mary Marsh, director of the Clore Social Leadership Programme and former chief executive of NSPCC, appointed last month by Nick Hurd MP to lead the sector leadership and skills review, joined the Minister as a keynote speaker at the conference. She echoed his promise of a short review process - of six months - and said: "We are concerned about the critical gaps in our capacity, and we will be looking for a range of potential solutions. We have a sense of where some of the gaps are, but we want to open the discussion as widely as possible, both online and face to face." 

Sharing insights into the implications of effective leadership, she saw an urgent need to widen the sector's trustee profile, which she felt was currently too narrow and lacking an "appetite for risk". She also told delegates: "I do not think we are very good at all at attracting graduates and young people who want to make a difference in society. We need two-way traffic with other sectors, and the development within the sector of supported career progression paths and refresher opportunities". She further highlighted the importance of recognising and learning from existing good practice; collaborative working and an entrepreneurial approach to challenge; the development of peer mentoring and support initiatives, in addition to embracing digital communications as a force for overcoming exclusion.

The voluntary sector employs 765,000 paid staff and works with 19.8 million volunteers.  Despite this, many of the sector's organisations say that 'skills gaps' impact negatively on their effectiveness and efficiency.

Summing up the conference, Keith Mogford, chief executive of Skills - Third Sector, said: "We cannot afford to become complacent and not continue to pay attention to investing in our skills; we may have the right skills for today, but we need to ensure we also have the right ones for the years ahead."


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