Dr Carolyn Downs, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster University Management School and Rebecca Harris, Research Associate in Marketing, Lancaster University Management School
The challenges faced by the adult social care sector are no secret and, with demographic change, the demand for high-quality care services continues to grow.
However, the latest figures from Skills for Care reveal a glimmer of hope, with a slight reduction in care worker vacancies. While this is undoubtedly a welcome development, it is essential not to overlook the significant recruitment and retention problems that persist.
Currently, the adult social care sector grapples with a vacancy rate of 9.9%, resulting in a staggering 152,000 unfilled positions. This pressing issue affects the quality of care provided and puts immense strain on existing workers.
One initiative that has made significant strides in understanding and tackling the workforce crisis is the Learning for Adult Social Care Practice Innovation and Skills (LAPIS) project, led by a team at Lancaster University.
LAPIS has collaborated with European partners, including Poland, Bulgaria, Italy, Cyprus, and Greece, to develop research-based responses to the sector’s challenges.
Notably, LAPIS discovered adult social care is facing a crisis not just in the UK but across all partner countries. The recruitment challenges are alarmingly similar, regardless of the geographic location. This points to the urgency and global relevance of the solutions that need to be implemented to revolutionise the sector.
Central to LAPIS’ approach has been a focus on the needs of managers in partner countries. Through engagements with more than 600 representatives from the care sector, the project identified the pressing need for comprehensive staff development programmes, tailored to cater to the unique requirements of both care users and care workers.
Moreover, LAPIS highlighted the importance of structures of professional recognition to improve the status of care workers within the sector. Such recognition empowers workers, fosters motivation, and, ultimately, enhances the quality of care provided. However, the project also discovered that barriers, both structural, social, and cultural, exist acting as barriers to innovation within the sector.
Staff training is essential in making care workers feel valued and increasing retention rates. Unfortunately, staffing shortages often hinder organisations from providing adequate training opportunities. Where there is training offered, we found many care workers took the same training year after year due to a lack of options.
In response to this, LAPIS worked collaboratively with employers and educators to develop a range of free resources aimed at assisting managers in designing and implementing customised work-based learning packages for their organisations.
The comprehensive suite of resources includes short modules covering the following areas: creating own work-based learning programme; leadership in work-based learning; and promoting innovation in care.
These are accompanied by a digital map and user-friendly guidebook, highlighting successful work-based learning practices in the social care industry, covering planning and development. Accessible via Lancaster University’s Open Learn Platform or LAPIS website, these resources offer invaluable support for the care sector.
Beyond addressing training needs, LAPIS also explored innovation in social care, unearthing a significant issue: leaders and managers tend to associate innovation solely with invention and are often unaware of the innovations taking place within their own organisations.
This lack of recognition hinders the sharing of successful practices, stalling progress in the sector. To bridge this gap, LAPIS developed an innovative app that allows users to read, upload and share innovation stories from the sector, ultimately stimulating a culture of innovation within the adult social care sector.
As the LAPIS project nears its conclusion, its deliverables remain as a freely available beacon of hope for the future of adult social care. By investing in lifelong learning and promoting innovation, the sector can overcome the pressing challenges it faces today and lay the foundation for a thriving future.