Social care in 2018: time to think about the future workforce

Sharon Allen
Recent reports recognise that a well-led, skilled, knowledgeable and valued workforce is central to our aspirations for high quality care and support services. Photograph: Getty Images

The government’s forthcoming green paper on care and support for older people, and the parallel workstream on working age adults, is an opportunity for us to recognise the work of 1.45 million adult social care workers across England – and to really think about what the future workforce will look like.

One of Skills for Care’s priorities in 2018 is working with employers and other partners to make a strong submission to the green paper, so we ensure that recruitment and retention issues, and the learning and development needs of the workforce, are integral to the discussion.

I have been encouraged that we can do this by the emphasis on workforce in the Lords select committee report on the long-term sustainability of the NHS and adult social care (pdf), and the commons communities and local government select committee report into adult social care (pdf). Both these reports recognised that a well-led, skilled, knowledgeable and valued workforce is central to our aspirations for high quality care and support services.

We will continue to grow our registered manager networks as we know that strong and well-supported leaders are key to developing high quality services. It can be a lonely place being a care manager – but these networks offer a place for them to share experiences and ideas: 74% of care managers say they feel more confident in their roles after using resources and suggestions from other managers.

Apprentices are a real success story in adult social care: 99,220 have started in the past year alone.

In 2018 we would like to see increased take-up of the new apprenticeship standards, which set out what an apprentice will be doing and the skills required of them. The standards for adult care workers and lead adult care workers were launched in the last 12 months and have already led to the recruitment of new apprentices. Further higher level standards are being introduced for lead practitioners and leaders in adult care. While they are passing through the government approval process, we will continue to administer the established and most popular higher apprenticeship framework in the economy, care leadership and management.

We are also looking forward to the findings of the health select committee nursing inquiry, which I gave evidence to highlighting the difficulties we face recruiting enough nurses to support people in the care sector with complex needs –and how we might address that. It’s important that we hear the voice of nursing home providers, who employ around 43,000 nurses across England, as making sure they can find nursing staff is central to our aspirations for high quality care and support.

If one issue continues to challenge the social care sector, it is finding and keeping the right people to fill the 90,000 job vacancies we have every day. If you add the forecast that we may need to fill an additional 500,000 new job roles by 2030, this makes recruitment and retention our most pressing issue.

This is why we have proposed a national recruitment campaign, which the sector has received positively so far. We will run a scoping exercise to gain views from the sector on what an effective recruitment and retention campaign might look like, which we will report to the Department of Health in 2018.

My main hope for 2018 is that, as a society, we will see the adult social care workforce as an asset we should be proud of – without it, our communities would be such poorer places.

We need to celebrate the care worker who helps someone fulfil a lifelong wish. We need to praise the integrated social care and health team supporting a desperately ill man to stay in his home. And we need to value the care workers who support a person to die with dignity where they want to be.

Adult social care is complex in so many ways; we are a people business in which hardworking, skilled and dedicated workers make a difference to people’s lives every single day and night.

Sharon Allen is chief executive of Skills for Care

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