Sector Skills Agreements, The Scottish Perspective

Care Appointments learns how Sector Skills Agreements are closing the skills gap in social services…

The social service sector is one of the most diverse and complex employment sectors in the country and its efficiency and effectiveness is essential to the Scottish economy and to Scottish society. The contribution of the sector is not measured simply in terms of economic and financial worth but in values that lie at the heart of a civil society, such as social inclusion and the protection of the vulnerable.

It is a sector that is continually evolving, providing increasingly integrated and flexible services that must continue to be responsive and relevant to the needs of service users.

As the demands of regulatory bodies, employers and people who use social services change, so too do the training and learning requirements of the sector. As a result, finding out more about the availability of training courses and funding for training is essential for social service employers and employees.

That’s why Sector Skills Agreements are good news for you.

Sector Skills Agreements between employers and education and training suppliers set out how to work with key partners to shape the necessary supply of training to close skills gaps and improve performance. The development of a Sector Skills Agreement for the social service sector is led by Skills for Care & Development, the sector skills council for the social service sector.

The Background
Skills for Care & Development is an alliance of five organisations, licensed by the UK Government to represent the interests of some 60,000 employers and 1.6 million workers in the UK. In Scotland there are 138,000 social services workers providing services to around half a million people. By the end of the 2005 there were 25 sector skills councils forming the Skills for Business network, covering some 85% of the UK workforce.

In 2005 the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) was granted the licence to become the sector skills council, Skills for Care & Development in Scotland. Skills for Care & Development in Scotland is located within the SSSC. The partners of the alliance for the UK social service sector are: the SSSC; Care Council for Wales; Northern Ireland Social Care Council; Skills for Care (adult social care England); and Children’s Workforce Development Council (England).

Sector skills councils have been set up by the Government with four key goals:
– reducing skills gaps and shortages
– improving productivity, business and public service performance
– increasing opportunities to boost skills and productivity
– improving training, including apprenticeships, higher education and national occupational standards.

Sector Skills Agreements
One of the ways Skills for Care & Development are doing this is by facilitating Sector Skills Agreements (SSA) which are fundamentally altering the way skills are delivered and developed throughout the UK. The agreements will enable the government, employers, employee representatives and organisations who plan, fund and support education and training to work together to tackle the provision of skills around a common set of objectives. They will enable key partners to work together and support each other to shape the necessary supply of training to close skills gaps within their sector.

Mike Docherty, SSSC Learning and Development Adviser and Lead Officer for the SSA work in Scotland, said: “The final agreement has the potential to make significant improvements to the supply of skilled staff to the sector. The involvement of employers is key to this work as they know better than most what the sector’s skill needs are.

“By mapping out exactly what skills employers need their workforce to have, and how these skills are supplied, Sector Skills Agreements will ensure the UK has the skilled workforce it needs. Each agreement lays out resource requirements and the types and levels of courses required.

“This represents an opportunity for employers to shape and endorse learning and training that meets the needs of the workforce, of their own regulatory bodies and fulfils the aims of the sector.”

Key Stages Skills for Care & Development has now begun work on the SSA for the social services sector, which is due to be completed by December 2007. Every organisation involved in the planning and funding of education and training will have assessed and agreed to the Sector Skills Agreements objectives so that the commitments they make are feasible and achievable.

Mike Docherty commented: “Developing a Sector Skills Agreement involving social service employers, training providers and funding bodies will take around 18 months and is a five stage process.”
The five key stages of developing a SSA include:
– Stage 1: A sophisticated assessment of the sector’s needs to cover the long-term, medium-term and short-term, mapping the drivers of change in the sector five to ten years down the track, and determining skills needs
– Stage 2: A review of the range, nature and employer relevance of current training provision across all levels
– Stage 3: An analysis of the main gaps and weaknesses in workforce development leading to agreed priorities to be addressed
– Stage 4: A review of the scope for collaborative action – engaging employers to invest in skills development to support improved business performance – and an assessment of what employers are likely to sign up to
– Stage 5: A final agreement of how the sector skills council and employers will work with key partners to secure the necessary supply of training Skills for Care & Development is working on stages one and two of the SSA for the social services sector.

Much of this work is in the form of a major research and consultation strategy that aims to identify perceptions of skills gaps within the sector. As part of the research, key stakeholders will be contacted for their views including 350 social service employers – a representative sample of about 10% of the Scottish social service sector, people who use services, carers, Learning Network representatives and partners.

The initial outcomes and key issues from the research will be published in November 2006. The findings will be publicised widely throughout the social service sector with a view to ensuring the information captured accurately reflects what is perceived as the needs and gaps of the Scottish social service sector.

Skills for Care & Development will then meet with groups of employers, and providers of training such as colleges and universities, to reflect on the outcomes of the research and achieve agreement on the emerging issues and priorities. The findings and final report from stages one and two of the process are expected to be published in early 2007.

Mike Docherty added: “The production of the SSA by the end of December 2007 will not be the end of the process but the beginning. It is in the subsequent implementation that we will see its true value. We hope the sector will join us in every stage of this process.”

Further Information
Skills for Care & Development will keep partners and interested parties informed of developments and progress of the SSA through regular updates in the SSSC eBulletin and newsletter.

There’s also an opportunity for you to contribute your views or comments on the SSA by contacting Daniel Stoddart from the SSSC to find out how you can get involved in the process. Daniel can be contacted on 01382 207185 or [email protected]