Nursing Opinion

Where’s The Z In ‘Social Care Workforce’?

Simon Bottery, Senior Fellow, Social Care, The King’s Fund

Simon Bottery, Senior Fellow in Social Care at independent think tank, The King’s Fund, discusses the challenges in attracting and retaining younger talent.

Visit a typical restaurant and around half the waiting staff will be under the age of 25. Visit a typical social care service and, on average, fewer than one in ten staff will be under 25.

Why is this – and does the social care sector want to do anything about it? The King’s Fund’s research with social care providers has found a range of answers to the first question and, perhaps surprisingly, some ambivalence about the answer to the second.

We spoke with 11 leaders in larger providers, who varied in the type of care they provide, the settings in which they provided it, and the people who drew on their services. Typically, they were enthusiasts for recruiting younger people.

They told us that young people have a lot to offer social care. Sometimes this was personal qualities like energy and a strong sense of social justice. Other times it was specific knowledge and experience – there was a clear belief that younger people are often more familiar with technology (and some particular applications of it, like social media) than many older people. And there was also recognition that for some younger people who draw on services, younger workers were a particularly good fit. One senior manager told us how a 21-year-old went to a concert with a 24-year-old careworker and said: ‘For the first time, I felt normal’.

For the providers we spoke to, these advantages outweighed any disadvantages. However, they also felt that this view was not universally the case across social care or even, sometimes, in their own organisations. One told us: ‘We’ve had it in some our services where managers have turned around and said ‘Oh, don’t give me anyone young’. Or, where younger people were employed, there was an acceptance that they would leave quite quickly.

Lying behind these attitudes were a range of issues. We heard in particular that younger people were thought to be less ‘workplace ready’ than older people, an issue which had been exacerbated by Covid-19 lockdowns. This meant providers had to provide greater ‘wraparound’ support to younger people than they might otherwise have had to.

But we also heard, even from some of these providers who were generally positive about younger people, attitudes that verged on stereotypes. Younger people were ‘always on their phones’, had short attention spans and were a ‘mollycoddled’ generation.

Providers felt that social care could – and should – get better at recruiting and retaining younger workers. Individual providers could get better at ensuring that younger staff feel valued and that other staff recognise their benefit. At local level, providers could combine to forge relationships with schools and colleges so that social care was seen as a more attractive career (we heard that all too often it was not). And at national level, there was a need for a centralized effort to promote social care. At the moment, one provider told us sadly, ‘young people want to be influencers, don’t they?’

We agree with these recommendations but also think that social care needs to do even more if it wants to attract more younger people. It does need to have an honest debate about those stereotypes of younger people. Differences between generations, research suggests, are more nuanced than we think and, even where they have a grain of truth, do not apply to all younger people.

In our next work, which we’ll publish in the summer, we’ll report on what younger workers themselves have been telling us. They were impressive young people but, sadly, many did not plan to stay in social care or had already left. There is work to be done if that situation is to change.

@blimeysimon    @TheKingsFund

kingsfund.org.uk

Kirsty

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