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More than a just a job for the here and now – careers in care homes

Yitka Graham

The UK’s ageing population will increase over the next 20 years (1), leading to further demand for places in care homes, through choice or circumstance. The current recruitment and retention issues facing the sector may be addressed through developing a long-term strategy to attract people with a desire to work with older, often vulnerable people. Working in an environment which allows people have a positive impact on peoples’ quality of life towards the end of their lives is a role which should be more widely promoted and valued.

The pandemic has brought the crucial role of care homes into the public eye, illustrating the unique impact that care home workers have in the lives of older and vulnerable people, their families and carers. Sadly, a recent survey showed that  25% of the wider front line social care workforce, was unable to commit to regular work as a result of the pandemic, owing to issues such as childcare, shielding, social distancing and social isolation (2). The need to raise awareness of, and encourage people to consider employment in the industry has never been greater than now.

The UK care home sector is worth £15.9 billion per year, providing care for 410,000 residents (3). Since 2012, real term median pay in the care sector has increased by 12%, which is positively comparable to other job markets, but this is rarely, highlighted (4). However, there appears to be a general perception of work in care homes as being low paid,  with limited opportunity of career progression (5).  There may also be a wider  lack of knowledge about the  breadth and scope of positions available,  from direct care through to ancillary roles, e.g. catering, domestic assistance and transportation (6).  A strong and strategic marketing campaign needs to be developed to illuminate the wide range of employment opportunities available to raise awareness of the potential of careers and potential for progression in care home settings.

The current demographics of the care home workforce shows  it to be  largely female (82%), the average age of employees is 44, with over a quarter are aged 55 and over (4).  These statistics should be used to guide marketing and recruitment strategies when considering innovative ways of attracting people to employment in care homes. For example, identifying case studies of men who are carrying out different roles could be used as exemplars to encourage more males to think about employment in the industry.

The age bias is being challenged through initiatives such as the The Prince’s Trust Health and Social Care Partnership, discussed in this issue. The Partnership specifically focusing on the recruitment of young people aged between 16-25 years over a four-year period.

COVID-19 has seen many people working within the hospitality industry furloughed, or facing uncertain futures.  This industry has people-facing and front-line positions, in addition to catering, domestic and transport roles.  The knowledge and skills gained by hospitality staff has great potential to be transferred and adapted to a care home environment through support and training. This may not always be apparent, so again, marketing and recruitment campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of this transferability presents a good opportunity to attract potential employees with abilities and expertise, who are worried about their employment prospects.

Employment in residential care home settings offers rich and rewarding opportunities to contribute to the provision of a warm, safe and caring environment for the thousands of residents who call it home, and for many is a long-term career.  These positive messages should be reflected in all recruitment initiatives.

  1. Kingston A, Comas-Herrera A, Jagger C. Forecasting the care needs of the older population in England over the next 20 years: estimates from the Population Ageing and Care Simulation (PACSim) modelling study. The Lancet Public health. 2018;3(9):e447-e55.
  2. Skills for Care. COVID-19 Survey Leeds: Skills for Care; 2020 [Available from: https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/adult-social-care-workforce-data/Workforce-intelligence/publications/Topics/COVID-19/COVID-19-survey.aspx.
  3. Competition and Markets Authority. Care homes market study: final report. London: Competition and Markets Authority; 2017.
  4. Skills for Care. The state of the adult care workforce in England Leeds: Skills for Care; 2020 [Available from: https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/adult-social-care-workforce-data/Workforce-intelligence/publications/national-information/The-state-of-the-adult-social-care-sector-and-workforce-in-England.aspx.
  5. Rusbridge A, Ahmed R. Research into the perceptions of the social care sector in East London. London: Transforming Services Together Working Group; 2017.
  6. Skills for Care. Job roles in social care Leeds: Skills for Care; 2020 [Available from: https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/Careers-in-care/Job-roles/Job-roles-in-social-care.aspx.




Dr Yitka Graham, Head of the Helen McArdle Nursing and Care Research Institute, University of Sunderland, Sunderland, Mark McArdle, Managing Director, HMC Group, Newcastle upon Tyne, Angela Richardson, Director, Academy for Care and Education, Sedgefield, Co. Durham, Marie Barrigan, Director, Academy for Care and Education, Sedgefield, Co Durham, Professor Catherine Hayes, Professor of Health Professions Pedagog

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