EXCLUSIVE: Skills for Care calls for fair deal for social care workforce

CEO Sharon Allen says it’s time society began to value the huge contribution made by the social care workforce

What are the key recruitment challenges facing the social care sector?

The issues have been pretty well documented. The biggest problem we have is one of image and profile. I think it’s a source of absolute national shame that social care is seen in the same bracket as low-wage professions such as retail and hospitality. Providing care and support to people in our communities, people who are our family members, is a highly skilled job and should not be seen as something anyone can do or something where there are no career prospects.

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There are fantastic career prospects in social care and it’s a job about huge reward, huge fulfilment and huge variety. Unfortunately across the piece it’s typically a low paid vocation, although some employers are able to pay their workers at the Living Wage or even above that.

Media coverage of our sector loves to focus on the horror stories. I want the absolute brightest light shone on poor practice and I want that eradicated from our sector but that is not what happens on most days and most nights. Most of the time our people are going the extra mile. When we had the really bad weather this winter we had people walking to appointments and staying in homes so that people could get their support. That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t make the headlines.

We celebrate the best of the best in social care through our I Care…Ambassadorsi and Accolades ceremonyii. There are some fantastic local initiatives such as Proud to Care in the south west showing all the great things happening in the sector. We need all of this to come together to change the image of the sector. When people talk about the health sector they are rightly proud to work in it. We need to achieve the same pride for what social care is doing. It’s a hugely important role that our society needs to properly value.

What can be done to increase care workers’ salaries?

Let’s start with parity with our NHS colleagues. In 2016 on average a health care assistant earned £17,500 and the average social care worker earned £15,000. How about we start there? It isn’t one person’s responsibility. It is a system issue that needs addressing. We need the input of people who are commissioning at a local level. I know that their budgets have been stretched and they pay what they can afford to pay which is not enough. Central government also has a responsibility. I understand that social care is more complicated because most care is provided through private providers rather than through a public body like the NHS, but the government does have levers that it can use. The third party who has a responsibility is the employers. Again I know how difficult it is to pay people what you would love to pay them to recognise the skill and the value they deliver, particularly if they are delivering services commissioned by public bodies. These three parties need to work together to make sure we lever sufficient money into the sector so that we can properly reward the workforce.

Is there a big divergence in carer salaries between privately focused and LA focused providers?

I am not sure it is as simple as that. Yes there is that range but it’s not the whole story. There are some private providers who do pay more and some who pay at Minimum Wage. There are some private providers who serve only self-funded private payers but that doesn’t necessarily translate into them being the ones who pay the best salaries. It’s a complex picture and depends very much on the business model of the individual employer as well as where they are getting their commissions from.

Is the prevalence of zero contracts an issue in terms of making care work an attractive employment offer?

It’s an interesting issue because we hear both sides of the argument from employers and those people working in the sector. That is one of the issues that needs to be looked at. We published a report last year called Secrets of Successiii where we looked at the very high level of churn in the social care workforce. We looked at what the organisations who keep their workforce were doing that everybody could learn from. There was a range of things. Pay was a factor and just as importantly was the culture of the organisation: how it valued its colleagues and how it invested in learning and development and taking the time to get to know staff personally and creating a positive environment for people to work in.

Being able to offer a career pathway to workers is another key element of recruitment. How important are apprenticeships in supporting this?

We have a fantastic track record in social care with apprenticeships. Until the changes came in last year, we had the highest number of apprentice start-ups of any sector. With all the changes that have come in there have been a high number of challenges around apprenticeships, predominantly in domiciliary and live in care rather than residential care. ApprenticeshipsiV are still a fantastic way to recruit and retain people because employers are demonstrating from day one that they are an organisation that is going to invest in their staff’s learning and development and support them to gain a qualification and to move along that career pathway. We offer a resource on our website about career pathways.

I totally refute the assertion that there is no career pathway in care. I am a living, breathing example that there is. I started off as a social work assistant. I can point to many colleagues who started as a care and support worker, as a volunteer or as a cleaner who have progressed through the organisation. One of the important things about health and social care is that progression doesn’t have to be vertical into more senior positions, it’s also about the breadth of what we do in social care. You might start working in older people’s services and then move onto supporting people with a learning disability and mental health problems. I think the range of opportunities can confuse people coming into the sector but I think that’s a strength to make more of.

What is being done to fill skills gaps in the sector?

We have a whole range of approaches. This starts with the Care Certificatev when someone has moved into a role in social care. They are supported to undertake the Care Certificate which is a comprehensive induction into their new role and we hope that employers use it as a platform to support their colleagues to go onto to do further learning and development. There is no entry requirement for people coming into social care. We have heard that people would welcome a conversation over whether we should have professional regulation of the workforce, at the very least for the registered manager, to give them the same kind of status and recognition as registered nurses, social workers and occupational therapists. That’s the kind of thing that the Government’s workforce strategy should be looking at.

Looking at the national picture, are there trends regionally in terms of recruitment challenges?

Any part of the country that has low unemployment is going to struggle with recruitment such as London and the south east. The Yorkshire ‘Golden Triangle’ of York, Harrogate and parts of Leeds is another vibrant economic area. The north east probably has the least challenges but that is not to say it is easy. Rural areas also obviously find it more difficult to recruit.

Has Brexit had much impact on recruitment?

The data thus so far isn’t showing us that we are losing people who are EU workers. Because there’s no qualification entry for social care as opposed to nursing I don’t think we are seeing the impact yet. There’s probably going to be a time lag involved. Anecdotately, we are hearing from colleagues operating in London and the south east who are experiencing difficulties. At the moment we don’t actually have any evidence to show that there’s been a reduction in the numbers of people.

We have seen a reduction in nursing numbers. They are a very important part of our workforce but they are a small part. We employ 1.5m people in social care in England and 43,000 of them are nurses. Of course whenever there is an impact on the NHS then there is a knock on impact on social care because if they are short of nurses what we tend to see is nurses who are in social care being drawn back into the NHS, so what we need is a really good collaborative approach to how we recruit and retain nurses across health and social care.

Could you highlight some of the programmes you provide to improve recruitment and retention?

We obviously already have a number of initiatives to help employers with recruitment and retention which are available on our website. Some key ones that we would strongly promote to the sector are our values based recruitment approach. We did an evaluation of this which shows that with every pound invested the employers get a return of £1.26 and those organisations using values-based recruitment have turnover rates 5.6% lower than the sector average. We also have the very successful I Care…Ambassadorsi scheme where people working in the sector in any role are supported to develop their skills so that they can go and promote the sector at a jobs or recruitment fair and go to events to talk to people about what working in social care is really like. We know that peer to peer recruitment is a very effective way of attracting people to the sector. People who have spoken to an I Care…Ambassador are 33% more likely to consider a career in the sector having had that conversation because it brings it to life. I did a scoping exercise earlier this year with the Department of Health and Social Care on a national recruitment campaign and we are in discussions with them on the next steps on that.

What measures to improve recruitment would you like to see in the Green Paper?

If the Green Paper is genuinely going to address the issues facing our sector then the workforce has to be central to it because however many opportunities there are for innovation and advancement through digital applications, social care is, and I sincerely hope always will be, a people business. With the demographics, we can’t ignore the fact that the workforce will need to grow. We need a framework for how that system is going to be provided and how it is going to be funded. We want the sector to be one that parents want to encourage their children to come into.

We have a workforce strategy consultation in the Green Paper that is being worked on. We hope that it will help address how we are going to address the challenges around how we are going to help employers recruit and keep and develop their workforce which is at the heart of everything Skills for Care does.

What role can technology play in improving the care working environment?

We are just finalising a report on digitalisation and technology. We have a digital champions group. There are some people in the sector who really embrace digitisation and how that can free up staff from doing paper work and give them more time to provide support for the people they want to care for and provide opportunities for people to be more independent and not have carers with them 24/7. I would be surprised if the Green Paper didn’t make reference to the opportunities of digitisation. If we are going to have more digital applications in social care then maybe it means we will be recruiting a different cohort of people who have grown up with digital as part of their lives. That could be a real opportunity for the sector if we get it right.

Links to reference documents: I I Care…Ambassadors  https://bit.ly/2l160tv; ii Accolades Awards https://bit.ly/2xWRH2g; iii Secrets of Success https://bit.ly/2JBJ7ut; iV Apprenticeships https://bit.ly/2sRkE9T; v Care Certificate https://bit.ly/2Hw3t33

 

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