Introduction of a new care workforce pathway – an opportunity for employers?
Adult social care has a large and diverse workforce in England, with around 1.6 million people working in the sector. It continues to create exciting career opportunities, with more posts being created each year, and is expected to do so for the foreseeable future.
However providers continue to experience considerable challenges and difficulties, particularly with recruitment and retention. The most recent data from Skills for Care shows that there are 165,000 vacant posts. Not only does this impact the quality of care service users experience, but it also damages staff morale, increases stress and anxiety amongst staff, resulting in high levels of sickness and long-term absences from work.
Due to a lack of workers in the UK with sufficient skills and experience, care workers were added to the shortage occupation shortage list last year. Subsequently the percentage of new starters who arrived in the UK to fill an adult social care vacancy increased from 4% to 11% between 2021 and 2022. Whilst this resolves a short-term plug for talent, it doesn’t address the longer term concerns about the lack of an experienced UK workforce.
Many employers recognise the importance of investing in learning and development opportunities, with the Government acknowledging that England lacks a universal career structure and clearly defined pathways. As a result, Skills for Care, in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) are gathering evidence to develop a new care workforce pathway for adult social care, together with the creation of a new Care Certificate qualification.
A consultation has been launched, during which Skills for Care and the DHSC are seeking clarification of career progression and development within adult social care, as well as the skills, behaviours and expertise needed to deliver high-quality, personalised, compassionate care and support.
It is being proposed that a new care workforce pathway would be created, which would include four broad categories of roles:
- Care and support practitioners - people in the first 12 to 18 months of the job who join the sector with little to no care experience.
- Advanced care and support practitioners – those who have developed experience in social care and have obtained the new Care Certificate qualification.
- Senior care and support practitioners - individuals in leadership and management roles such as supervisors, deputy managers and registered home managers.
- Practice leader or specialist practitioners - people who work in specialist areas, such as autism and dementia.
As part of the consultation, evidence is being obtained to ensure each proposed pathway meets the needs of the workforce and those who employ them. As such, each pathway will have a corresponding set of:
- behaviours, knowledge and skills people should have or, where applicable, be working towards;
- responsibilities people might be expected to perform in that role;
- any relevant experience people might be expected to demonstrate; and
- the opportunities to develop expertise or progress into other roles.
When will the changes come into force?
The online survey and consultation is open until 31 May 2023 - Care workforce pathway for adult social care: call for evidence - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). The DHSC proposes to publish the first part of the development pathway for staff in direct care roles by autumn 2023.
The consultation to improve employers understanding and expectations of their workforce is to be welcomed, especially if it results in increased recruitment opportunities, efficiency savings and value for money. Equally streamlining the training and development of adult social care workers could enable wider investment, including financial resources from Government and support from learning providers.
However, this consultation comes at a time when the DHSC said it would invest only £250m over the next two years in supporting care workers to develop their careers. This is significantly less than the £500m promised by the Government in December 2021.
Furthermore the introduction of a new Care Certification qualification is likely to become the baseline standard for all new care workers when they join the profession. It is not clear how this would interact with the 15 standards that are covered in the existing Care Certificate.
Whilst reforms for training and professional development are welcomed, it is disappointing they are being delivered and consulted upon with a significantly reduced funding pot. Many providers in the health and social care health sector want to adapt and innovate, but difficulties with cash flow, together with the ongoing recruitment and retention continue to have a profound impact on the continuity and sustainability of care.
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