Engage: Valuing the social care profession is key to bridging the skills gap

A recent survey by the Independent Children’s Homes Association (ICHA) has revealed that recruitment and retention in the sector is ‘horrific’. While the tone and sentiment of the report is strong, it comes as little surprise to seasoned professionals.

The coronavirus pandemic and Brexit have exacerbated a deep rooted issue – not just in children’s social care, but across the social care plain. Problems we’ve been experiencing for many years, concerning skills and talent, have been brought to the fore in the last 20 months and will undoubtedly remain there for some time to come.

The global pandemic has placed immeasurable strain on the social care sector – both operationally and financially – while Brexit has cut off a rich supply of overseas workers, who have helped to plug the skills gap in recent years. The two combined, piled on top of an already growing problem, make the word ‘horrific’ all the more understandable.

For too long the profession has been undervalued and starved of the necessary attention and public funding to help make social care an attractive career proposition. From a position of weakness, the industry has had to contend with two fundamental shifts in society, and it’s fair to say it’s been left reeling.

But as we look forward to a post-pandemic world, and we begin to accept the limitation brought on by Brexit, where do the solutions lie and how can operators bridge the gap when it comes to recruitment and retention?

Tackling the long held skills issue

The answer will only come through a collective effort across the social care sector. No single operator is strong enough to tackle the problem on its own, and the sector itself is arguably incapable of solving the skills crisis without meaningful government intervention. With the backing of ministers – both in terms of funding and thought leadership – the sector has the ability to unite to find a long overdue solution to the million dollar question.

However, throwing money at the problem, in respect of increasing wages, is unlikely to solve the problem in isolation. This is a branding issue as much as it is a financial one. Alongside the likes of HGV drivers and shop workers, the pandemic has highlighted the vital role care workers have to play, but at the same time has demonstrated that all three are in desperate need of a PR overhaul to make them exciting careers for young talent to enter. We desperately need fresh blood into the industry, and we need to get better at selling the fantastic qualities that have made people like myself remain in the sector for more than 25 years.

Harnessing talent

Career progression is key. People need to have the confidence that there is a future in the industry. They need to be inspired by managers and leaders and to hear first-hand the success stories that make up the rich tapestry that is social care.

We must value our people; we must invest in training and development; we must commit to placing health and wellbeing of employees at the top of the agenda; and we must deliver a well-rounded career based on respect, reward and opportunity.

Value can be demonstrated in how people are treated, but also through the investment that is made in each individual. It’s widely acknowledged that for every £1 you spend on your people the greater the retention rate. The more that’s invested, the better defined the career pathway is, and the more you connect and communicate with employees, the longer they will stay.

The problem of recruitment and retention in social care has been made worse in a matter of months, but the rehabilitation of our sector will take far longer to heal and will require a firm commitment right from Whitehall through to the grassroots.

About the Author

Rob Finney is chief operating officer at Tristone Healthcare. He has 25 years’ social work experience, including managing unregulated 16 plus provision, managing children’s homes and fostering services and managing commissioning / children’s placements for local authorities.

Picture (c) Tristone Healthcare.