From education to employment

Attracting younger workforce key to future of social care

A new report providing expert insight into current and future challenges in social care has highlighted the pressing need to bring young, skilled workers into the sector.

The Sector Spotlight goes on to identify two further areas of focus, including raising the profile of social care as a highly skilled sector and ensuring professional development is both clear and accessible once people enter the workforce. 

Alongside skills gap and demand data, the report also contains contributions by sector leaders Oonagh Smyth, CEO of Skills for Care, Craig Wade, Head of Provider Development at NCFE, and Stephen Mordue, former social worker and now Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Sunderland.    

The Spotlight forms part of a new series by the educational charity and leader in technical and vocational learning NCFE. To mark the organisation’s 175th anniversary, it is releasing several reports looking at critical sectors, including FE, social care, early years, and digital, before publishing a paper calling for action and change across the skills landscape.

Philip Le Feuvre, Chief Operating Officer at NCFE, said:

“To mark NCFE’s 175th anniversary, we have invited collaborators from across the sector to develop a series of spotlight reports focused on four key sectors that are essential to the future of the UK’s prosperity and productivity; education and early years, social care, digital, and the Further Education (FE) sector itself.  

“By analysing workforce data and bringing together leading voices from across these sectors, as well as hearing from those working on the frontline of their respective fields, we can begin to identify current and upcoming challenges, as well as potential opportunities to address the skills gaps that have emerged. 

“What’s clear from the insights in these reports is that sector skills gaps will continue or worsen if bold and transformative action is not taken.”

Utilising Office for National Statistics labour demand volumes, the Social Care Sector Spotlight report shows that, in 2022, there were over 400,000 more job postings within the social care sector as a whole than in 2017. This includes the creation of brand-new jobs, seen as emerging skills, as well as people leaving roles and creating a vacancy. Both result in a skills gap, with the sector’s increasing by more than 44% over the last five years. 

Writing in the report, Oonagh Smyth said:

“We need to support the recruitment and retention of workers, including underrepresented groups like young people and men, and create cultures where learning starts on day one of the role and is built into what is expected of every care worker. 

“Reducing the number of vacancies in a service will help employers to release existing staff to take on training and development opportunities. As well as making sure quality of care isn’t impacted, research tells us that the more investment employers make in the learning and development of their staff, the better the quality of care and support provided, and that in turn can be a factor in the inspection outcomes for a service.”

Stephen Mordue adds: “There continues to be problems with recruitment and retention in social care and, as a result, social workers have higher caseloads, and they engage mainly in their statutory responsibilities – which means the opportunities for therapeutic social work has become more limited. 

“This often leads to people seeking support in the independent and voluntary sector, which has also been decimated by austerity. The consequence of this is people can be left without effective support.”

NCFE identifies three areas of focus drawn from the data and expert views in the report:

  • Recognition and retention – more could be done to raise the profile of social care to parity with the health sector. It’s also important to give employers the confidence to invest in their staff, both in terms of time and training, so the sector does not get left behind when it comes to emerging skills, particularly digital skills.
  • Professional and career development – development within the social care sector is too often unclear and at worst, unavailable. Even when employers are more willing to invest in their staff, all too often there are many barriers to overcome. Accessing professional and career development needs to be clear and as straightforward as possible. 
  • Recruiting a younger workforce – over time, an ageing and eventually retiring workforce without younger recruits will only serve to compound and exacerbate existing challenges. Action is needed to ensure that those who want to pursue a career in the sector can access a course that is right for them.

To read the full Social Care Sector Spotlight and subsequent reports as they’re published, visit here.

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