Building social care sector career pathways

Jonathan Freeman MBE, CEO, CareTech Foundation

Employee turnover is an expensive business.  A Harvard Business Review study[i] estimates that replacing an employee who quits costs, on average, 21% of their annual pay.

The UK average employee turnover rate is approximately 15% a year.  But, in the social care sector, a whopping 34% of care workers left their role in 2020/21 according to Skills for Care’s annual report[ii].

There are many factors driving this huge churn in our workforce, but one that appears to be always put in the ‘too hard’ file is that of developing clear, compelling career pathways that span the whole social care sector.

Individual employers who invest in their staff, develop them and can offer a clear progression route are able to dramatically reduce staff turnover rates.  Research shows clearly that staff who stay longer in the same job without a title change are significantly more likely to leave for another company for the next step in their career.  By providing clear career paths for employees, moving them through job titles on a regular progression over time, employers can help boost career opportunities and limit this type of harmful stagnation.  This is as true for social care as any other sector.  Skills for Care’s 2017 report on retention[iii] showed that supporting staff development can play a significant part in boosting staff retention.

Look at most other sectors, and you can see clear career progression pathways.  The obvious analogy is the NHS but career pathways exist across a wide range of professions and careers, be that catering, accountancy, the Civil Service or teaching.  For someone either entering employment for the first time or looking for a change of career, especially at present with record job vacancies across the whole of the UK economy, individuals are looking not just at the particular role but where that role can lead over time.  They are looking where an individual role can take them, how they can build their experience, tackle new challenges, learn new skills, take greater responsibility, enhance their leadership and, yes, earn more money.

As a sector, we offer some great jobs but we seldom offer a long-term career.  And if we cannot show someone clear progression from their current role to a better position in which they can develop, then ultimately they will turn to opportunities elsewhere.

But, with the sector dominated by small providers, it tends to only be larger providers who are able to provide clear career pathways for their staff.  For the sector as a whole, and indeed for ambitious individuals, this is significantly impacting our ability to recruit and retain the best possible workforce.

As well as the disproportionately high overall staff turnover rate in the sector, we also know that the sector has a significant problem in attracting younger people.  And, for those younger people that do join the sector, up to almost 50% leave every year.  I would argue that, for bright and ambitious younger people – or indeed, older people considering a career change – it is very hard to see a clear, exciting long-term career pathway in the sector.

Recently, a broad group of social care leaders and those expert in graduate recruitment came together to propose a bold, disruptive new approach to leadership talent attraction in  social care sector, modelled on the highly-successful Teach First model that has transformed recruitment of teachers and a range of other previously-unattractive fields.  This proposed new Social Care Leaders Scheme offers an exciting vehicle to recruit a whole new cadre of leadership talent in to the sector.  But, as the Business Case[iv] for the Scheme makes clear, it will be vital to develop long-term career pathways across the sector for real progress to be made.

Vital to the development of compelling career pathways for the sector will be the need for providers across all parts of the sector to recognise the need to work together in developing commonly-accepted career steps and roles.  And, crucially, to accept that the long-term needs of the sector, and of all providers in the sector, will depend on encouraging employees to move across providers as a natural part of their career development.  We need to encourage individuals to move from provider to provider to learn new skills, gain new perspectives, and build their expertise.

None of us like losing a great member of staff but if we have given them the opportunity to gain promotion, albeit in another organisation, then we should be proud to have given them that opportunity.  In most sectors, there is an expectation that an individual’s career development will see they gain experience in a range of different settings and providers.  We have to embrace and encourage such movement by our own staff, not least because if we don’t we know that our staff will move to new opportunities outside the sector.

Jonathan Freeman MBE


[i] https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-do-employees-stay-a-clear-career-path-and-good-pay-for-starters

[ii] 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

[iii] https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/resources/documents/Recruitment-support/Retaining-your-staff/Secrets-of-Success/Recruitment-and-retention-secrets-of-success-report.pdf

[iv] SCLS-Business-Case-28-April-2022.pdf (caretechfoundation.org.uk)


Email Newsletter