Industry employers must strive to challenge the public perception of what it means to work in social care, Skills for Care CEO Sharon Allen has stressed.
Negative attitudes and misconceptions surrounding social care work are preventing the industry from recruiting and retaining a quality workforce, she told delegates at the Westminster Health Forum on the Next Steps for Social Care.
“We still unfortunately labour under this misnomer that social care is a menial job and something you go into if you can’t think of anything else to do,” she said.
According to a recent Skills for Care study, there are currently 110,000 vacancies in social care in England. That figure has risen from an estimated 6.6% in 2017 to 8% in 2018.
Explaining these findings, Allen said: “One of the reasons I think we struggle so much to recruit and retain the workforce is the notion that adult social care is low skilled and that it requires little in the way of learning and development. I would say that the opposite is true.
“It absolutely infuriates me when people associate low pay with low skill. It is a sad fact that our sector is often described as a minimum wage sector. Personally I think that’s shameful when you look at what we are asking people to do – the level of care, compassion and skill that we are asking for from them. So it is not low skilled, it is low paid.”
Allen called on delegates to challenge that narrative and tell people, with the right values, about the reality of working social care.
“All of us here in this room can help make a difference. When you are talking to your children, your nieces, your nephews, your friend’s children, or anybody who is asking you for career advice, you could change that narrative about what social care is,” she said.
“You could ask people to think about going into social care and talk to them about the vast array of jobs and opportunities there are in our sector. Yes, it is a demanding job, but the rewards are huge, so let’s get that story out there.”
Allen stressed that once employers have recruited quality workers, they must invest in their learning and development.
“Funding is not the only solution; it’s not just about money, but it’s not not about money. We’ve seen in recent shifts in government policy that some employers are asking what it is they must do in terms of learning and development. So what we need is not just money, but consistent advice and requirements about what we expect from our workforce,” she said.
Another area the industry must invest in is registered managers, Allen told the conference.
“Every time we see those horror stories on Panorama about things that have gone wrong, the question we ask is where the leaders were. Where were the people who would not tolerate that kind of abuse? Poor leadership or lack of leadership leads to poor services,” she warned.
“Yet being a registered manager, and there are over 20,000 of them in England, is one of the most challenging roles you can take on.”
One of the ways that training charity Skills for Care is supporting registered managers is setting up registered manager networks around the country.
“There’s a registered manager network now in nearly every local authority area, providing an opportunity for these colleagues to come together to get peer support and share knowledge and best practice,” Allen said.