Since launching Charityworks in 2009, there are two conversations I’ve had so many times I feel like I could rehearse them in my sleep.
The first is with students and graduates: they tell me that we have made it incredibly hard to find a way into our sector, and that when they do get a foot in the door they often get stuck in entry level-roles, with little scope to make a real contribution.
The second is with leaders and managers in the sector about their haphazard and fortuitous career journeys. I’ve lost track of the number of great people I’ve met working and leading in this sector who ‘fell’ into it almost by accident, only to subsequently discover all that the sector has to offer.
Both of these conversations chime with me personally, having fallen into the sector myself as a volunteer more than 20 years ago, and both make me think the same thing: are charities missing out on talented people by failing to target graduate talent? And are we making the most of the people we do persuade to build a career in the sector?
My experience is that we are consistently missing out on brilliant people capable of becoming our future managers and leaders, and that we need to improve at giving our best people the licence to prove their worth and fulfill their potential.
At the same time, I am optimistic about our ability to respond to this issue. Partly this is because I think the solution is in our gift, and partly because I think there is a real appetite for the type of collaboration which will have a big impact. I was buoyed by the results of some recent Charityworks research, released today, which shows that almost 80% of charity leaders surveyed believed charities had a ‘shared responsibility to develop a non-profit sector workforce capable of tackling the social issues of the future’.
When I think about the impact talented people can have if they’re given the space and licence to deliver results, my mind is immediately drawn to a trainee who came through the programme last year. She came out of university quite inexperienced and ‘green’ in many ways, but her values and attitude were so strong that her potential was obvious. She was given a challenging operational placement working directly with service users, and performed with such integrity and skill that she was soon outperforming people who had been in the same role for years. That is what’s possible, and it shouldn’t be as an unusual a story as I fear it is.
People in this sector know that talent can come from anywhere, and I’m certainly not making an argument to target graduates at the expense of people who haven’t been through university. But the sector should be pulling people from every available source to support their work, and at the moment the way we speak to graduates is massively under-developed in comparison with other sectors. We are in the process of defining this sector in the eyes of graduates who want a social career, and I urge everyone reading this to get involved and make that happen.
Rachel Whale is the founder of Charityworks, the UK’s leading non-profit graduate scheme