Who would choose to work in the social care sector? Why get paid the minimum wage for a high stress job that you take home with you at the end of the day? Why would anyone get involved in a sector that attracts media attention only when things go wrong?
These may parody the kinds of questions that social care providers get asked by potential recruits, but they capture some of the current challenges in the sector.
OK, there are many good quality care providers offering well paid careers in the sector. There are many routes into the profession for school and college leavers and older adults too. And while a good ‘story’ for the media can sometimes include the challenges facing the sector, there are lots of examples of positive work being done by care organisations, to help people live the lives they choose.
But nationally and locally providers are facing big challenges in the social care sector. Current government policy towards public services has included major cuts to social care funding, despite a growth in the numbers of older people. There is an estimated funding gap that will be £7.1bn by 2020, (LGA 2017). In addition, tightening regulation and higher registration fees, major changes in commissioning priorities and increasing running costs, provide a challenging backdrop for providers trying to recruit and hold on to staff.
Around 1.5 million people work in the social care sector in England, but a common perspective is that they are undervalued and poorly paid. With demographic changes, more people will be needed to work in the sector to care for people with increasingly complex needs. The National Audit Office has criticised the Department for Health and Social care for not doing enough to support a sustainable social care workforce, (National Audit Office, 2018).
This year, a consultation has been carried out on a draft health and social care workforce development strategy (Health Education England, 2018). This was an attempt to set out at a strategic level the workforce needs for the future and how they will be met. However, the focus of the strategy is largely on NHS staff, with little on the recruitment of social care staff. Publication of the final version of the strategy is now overdue.
So, what can care and support providers do themselves to attract and retain good quality staff?
One initiative that has been working well to profile social care as a career option has been Proud to Care. This SW region campaign is supported by all local authorities in the region and has included a social media recruitment drive and local authority webpages through which care providers can advertise vacancies and potential workers can read about the benefits of working in social care, training and education routes and local opportunities for employment. The Somerset Proud to Care website is a good example of how local providers can use the platform for attracting potential staff.
Employers can do more to attract staff in times of high competition. Care providers will find valuable resources and advice on recruitment and retention produced by Skills for Care. These include resources on finding and keeping workers, developing potential and using a values-based approach.
Skills for Care have conducted some research into the key things that successful employers do to find and hold on to staff. Here are four top tips for you to follow;
- Have a good understanding of local needs and circumstances to underpin your recruitment planning process; this enables you to be proactive and strategic, rather than reactive.
- Finding staff with the right values and behaviours is more important than finding staff who are already qualified; skills can be taught but personal attributes (kindness, compassion, reliability, honesty, etc.) cannot.
- Investing in staff should not be a tick box exercise; find out what they need and then explore the best way/s of addressing it.
- Respecting and valuing staff, investing in learning and development, embedding your organisation’s values and celebrating achievements all go a long way to improving staff retention.
So, while we await longer term improvements in the sector, there is lots that you can be doing to attract and hold on to the workers that you need.