Social care recruitment and retention – the sector speaks

Facing the facts, shaping the future, the Department of Health & Social Care and Skills for Care adult social care workforce consultation, focuses on a number of workforce challenges specific to the adult social care sector: attracting and recruiting into the workforce; improving retention; how to improve professional development; the role of regulation, and ensuring effective workforce planning. The consultation runs from 20 February to 9 April 2018. 

In light of the launch of this consultation we are re-posting this recent piece by Jo Moriarty, Jill Manthorpe and Jess Harris in which the authors introduce their report on the topic (first published 1 February 2018). (663 words)

Recruitment and retention reportHigh turnover rates among people working in social care are troubling. Both getting and keeping staff are difficult. Experts often talk about what needs to be done to make sure that the right people with the right values are there to support people needing care. New insights into possible solutions to care recruitment and retention problems are reported today in a report from King’s College London. The researchers turned to the workforce themselves to ask what needs to be done. One hundred and forty people working in different jobs or with different experiences of social care discussed what needs to change in areas such as pay, competition between employers, and work pressures. Subjects covered included better organisation of locum working, ensuring zero hours contracts are fair, and that people who are part of the ‘gig economy’, where people are called on to work only when necessary, enjoy this flexibility rather than find it anxiety-making.

The report confirms the importance of raising the status of social care work and making sure it is a sensible financial option for people who have bills to pay and families to feed. There was substantial approval of minimum wage rises, but a widespread plea to make sure that work related benefits don’t overcomplicate their abilities to juggle paid work and other commitments. Several of the professionals interviewed in areas where housing costs are very high did not feel this was reflected in their salaries and that employers need to work more on co-ordinating support to help their workforce get on the housing ladder, thus improving retention.

New roles were evident in social care. There is almost no such thing such as a typical job. However, job titles do not generally reflect these rising levels of skills.

In respect of investments in social care, the ‘return’ from the new arrangements around apprenticeships (the levy) did not yet seem to be being realised in many places. Contrary to some impressions there is training in social care, much paid for by the taxpayer, those interviewed commented that this is uneven and not always fully related to what is needed. Career development in social care largely relied on anecdotal inspiration and more could be made of the opportunities the sector presents. There was some dismay about the widespread belief that if you wanted career opportunities this means moving to the NHS.

Everyone thought that social care work was not for the faint hearted or people who wanted high salaries. But it was not always possible to recruit according to values for jobs that were very hard to fill. There was some hope that people with work experiences in other public services, such as the armed forces, might want to work in social care, but this could take mutual adjustment and again took time. Pressures of work also meant that the time to support volunteers was hard to find.

Withdrawal from the European Union (Brexit) was specifically asked about in this study, one of the earliest chances to get this data from those potentially affected following the referendum. The impact is likely to be highly variable this study reveals. For some social care workplaces it may not make any difference; for others, possible changes are already being addressed by current EU migrant workers. In some places a ‘watch and wait’ approach is being adopted.

Most people interviewed could offer suggestions to government and employers about what to do about social care recruitment and retention problems. Many were involved in initiatives such as asking friends and family if they would like to work alongside them or consider a career in the sector. For some they had to ‘defend’ social care work as something that was personally rewarding and not a dead end job. Most thought that the media could be better ‘friends’ of social care and not just focus on ‘bad apples’ or when things went wrong. The real rewards for frontline workers lay in the appreciative comments they got from people needing care.

Recruitment and Retention in Adult Social Care is published by King’s College London’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit. The authors are Jo Moriarty, Jill Manthorpe and Jess Harris. This piece was first published 1 February 2018.