Insights into the Third Sector: Part 1

The third sector (not-for-profit, voluntary, or charities sector – depending on what you may call it) represents a popular career path for Edinburgh University graduates. The variety of roles across local, regional, national and international charities and organisations graduates progress into illustrates this. All of the considerable community engagement, societies work and wider volunteering undertaken by students doesn’t just develop skills and experiences, but it can also expand horizons and shape career ideas.

It’s also a broader, more complex and significant sector than is often readily assumed. Indeed, the UK Civil Society Almanac: Workforce, 2014 reported over 800,000 people are employed in the sector in the UK. Within Scotland, for example, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations highlight that the sector employs (using 2013 data) 138,000 people – across almost 20,000 charities, housing associations and credit unions –  with a total income of almost £5 billion.

Yet, there are comparatively few graduate schemes operating in the sector. Some examples can be seen in competitive programmes and organisations such as Charityworks, Yearhere, Worthwhile, Cancer Research UK, Wellcome Trust, and Sanctuary Group. Additionally, there are short term placements in individual local authority graduate internships, Adopt an Intern placements, and structured internships with larger charities, amongst others.

However, it is important to recognise and appreciate that direct entry (with relevant experience) and lateral hiring (e.g. gaining experience in the private sector and then moving over) are currently more established – though not exclusive – employment routes in the sector. This again reveals a competitive, but more elastic market with a variety of graduate and non-graduate entry points – short, medium and longer-term.

We understand this and our Careers Fair, Third Day: More Than Profit, Global Experience Fair, Recruiter in Residence sessions and charity presentations all offer students different ways to engage with the sector.

More recently, Emma McGowan, in her previous role as a Business Development Manager at Charityworks – and now a self-employed third sector consultant – took part in our graduate labour market myth busting employer panel session as part of our inaugural Career Confident week in late February. It was really informative to hear her perspective from the point of a sector professional and as someone who recruits students to work with a variety of partner charities and housing associations.

After the session, I spoke to Emma about her advice for students wanting to develop a career in the sector – I’ll post her insightful response shortly.

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