Opinion

Big, bold and disruptive!

Jonathan Freeman MBE, CEO, CareTech Foundation

Why we need a new approach to leadership recruitment in social care

You surely don’t need me to rehearse the statistics on job vacancies in the social care sector?!

We all know the scale and impact of the sector’s recruitment and retention crisis.

Efforts to date have focussed, understandably, on the general recruitment challenge for front-line care workers. Despite millions of pounds spent on PR campaigns, recruitment teams, technology, recruitment bonuses and the like, we’re not even denting the issue.

There is a very real risk that, without investment in management and leadership roles across the sector, recruitment campaigns will simply be exercises in pouring more water into an increasingly leaky bucket.

The social care sector urgently needs to attract high-calibre talent and significantly address leadership skills to instil long-term change from within. The Care Quality Commission in 2018 reported that “problems with management and leadership support can exacerbate pressures in the system and have a substantial impact on the quality of care people receive”.

This requires a big, bold new initiative to make the social care sector a career of choice for the brightest and best – be that at graduate level or beyond.

Whilst others have done much to try to address these challenges, the reality is that nothing has yet shifted the dial in a meaningful way. As the recent Adam Smith Institute report on social care powerfully argues, “To be genuinely sustainable, reform will have to be disruptive.”

The approach of schemes like Teach First, Frontline and Now Teach offer powerful examples that can be tailored to deliver a game-changing ‘Now Care’ talent recruitment and leadership development campaign.

We can learn from the experience of these Transform Society alliance members who over the past 17 years have shown that across teaching, social work, policing and prisons, you can successfully change a generation’s view of professions never previously considered by top talent in the past. All five programmes now appear in the Top 40 of the Top 100 Graduate Employers, recruit over 3,000 graduates a year and have become a magnet to our country’s top graduates due to the training, development, support and critically the ‘visions’ of each charity to not only deliver inspirational practitioners today but the leaders of the future tomorrow.

Alumni from all these programmes, now totalling over 23,000 collectively, are steadily and impressively moving into leadership positions, whether still in the sector or not (and around 70%+ stay for ever), still caring and driving change towards the vision.

As well as approaching talent recruitment differently, there is a parallel need to create viable and attractive career structures within the sector. In the same way that other sectors have recognised the value in creating specialist cadres within their sector, there is a need to work with providers to develop clear career paths across the sector, with individuals provided with effective development support. There are great examples in the sector of individuals who have reached senior management roles after starting as frontline care workers and of care providers developing routes to career progression, but all acknowledge the need for greater action on this front.

The CareTech Foundation commissioned Transform Society to undertake a feasibility study to test this ‘Now Care’ proposition.  Over 50 leading sector representatives were consulted, feeding in to an Advisory Group chaired by Professor David Grayson, Chair-Elect of Leonard Cheshire.  We have been delighted at the welcome the proposition has received from this group and the commitment of so many to making a reality of this approach.

It is vital that ‘Now Care’ is driven by the sector, demonstrating to the Government and society that the sector recognises the need for change and will roll its sleeves up to support reform.  Providers across the sector are stepping forward to back the establishment of ‘Now Care’, including with significant financial pledges.  We need more backers from the sector and, to match the scale of the challenge, we need Government support.

There is no more rewarding a role than to care for others. It should, and could, be a a career route of choice for so many more people.  By training more leaders and creating a structured and recognised career path, with stalwarts of the sector acting as mentors, we believe that we can significantly enhance the culture and reputation of the sector and make it a more attractive place to work for a new generation.

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