With the pace of technological advances accelerating almost daily, and the nature of social care itself transforming, it is more important than ever that care sector leaders understand the huge benefits that can be delivered through innovations that can make the most out of the care environment for both our staff and those we serve.
These advancements can include everything from adapting an individual’s home environment to further embracing new innovations in speech and communication-focused assistive technology. To do this, we have to make sure that sector-specific policies allow for more seamless integration of technology into care facilities. We must also look for solutions to make these policies and frameworks sustainable.
For many reasons, including the further embracing of technology during the pandemic, there has been an acceleration in the usage and deployment of digital health solutions. It is fair to say the care sector, for the longest time, has been technology-resistant – but this is, thankfully, changing. We need to be prepared to take advantage of these new opportunities nimbly and flexibly.
One of the most effective ways to do this is by recruiting and working with young people. It is no secret that younger generations are tech savvy and that by creating vibrant workplace environments that embrace the use of technology, young employees are empowered to develop innovative ideas that can be implemented and solve real-life issues faced both by themselves and those within their communities.
However, much more must be done to make social care an appealing career choice for all demographics. The care sector has an almost overwhelming vacancy crisis and this has been a reality for too long. This is especially true amongst the young population, for whom a career in care too often never even crosses their minds when they start to think about their future employment ambitions.
The recent ‘Developing the digital skills of the social care workforce’ report from The Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, sets out clearly the role that embracing technology can have wider benefits for the care sector, notably in addressing the sector’s recruitment and retention challenges. The report highlights that “Providing opportunities for care workers to develop new skills and use new technologies can improve job satisfaction and help staff progress towards their career goals or inspire new career pathways. Digital skills have positive consequences on broader skills development and creating a fertile context for greater health and social care integration.” As the report makes clear, “technology on its own isn’t the answer – it requires key organisational, clinical and technological infrastructure to be in place.” Mentorship, career support, growth opportunities, impactful responsibility and deeper peer relationships are aspects that everyone – especially younger workers – expects from their workplaces these days. These are also career aspects that the care sector as a whole needs to do a better job of prioritising.
As Digital Investments Director at CareTech plc and a trustee at CareTech Foundation, I have the privilege of working with the charity’s charitable partners such as the EY Foundation, to find ways to utilise CareTech plc’s resources to instill changes needed in the sector. In our partnerships, we aim to show that care is not just limited to caring in the traditional sense but, like any business and any sector, requires resources beyond the scope of care to make quality care possible.
We joined with the EY Foundation as a partner in their Smart Futures initiative, a 10-month programme which gives participants paid, real working world experience, including employability skills training, interactive workshops, and mentorship opportunities with professionals from across different sectors with the goal to help young people develop key skills that are essential in the workplace.
Mentorship is a huge aspect that the care sector leaders as a whole need to embrace. Programmes such as Smart Futures are amazing opportunities for care leaders to contribute mentors to meaningful projects and help inspire the next generation of care workers. Over the three-year partnership, CareTech plc and Cambian Group provided a total of 15 mentors for Smart Futures Birmingham and Manchester cohorts where staff were able to engage with young people, generate new ideas and build team management skills – all the good things that come from mentoring.
Programmes like Smart Futures also give young people the opportunity to take ownership of their projects in a safe and inclusive environment that leads to the development of real world skill sets and confidence-building. One of my favourite examples is the work that one of CareTech plc’s recent technology investment, Smartbox, did with the EY Foundation.
Smartbox is a market-leading Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) company creating assistive technology that helps individuals who are non-verbal to communicate and live more independent lives. As a participant in EY Foundation’s Smart Futures programme, Smartbox provided significant volunteer support for the Smart Futures placement students. Young people came in and in a day-long assignment were tasked with preparing business and marketing strategies for the Symoji programme, an auxiliary keyboard app for disabled people. Their engagement, interpretation and fresh ideas won the day and Smartbox were so impressed with the ideas of one group of students that they invited them back to continue to develop a Symoji that will be used by CareTech plc!
The Smartbox story is a great case study that shows the type of innovations that can occur when young people are given responsibilities and ownership of a project that is impactful. CareTech plc will benefit from their work whilst these young people will be able to showcase real world impact on their CVs. And, most importantly, those using assistive technologies will have an even better experience thanks to this innovation.
Attracting young people to care solves two major problems within the sector: our recruitment shortage and our historic apprehension towards new technologies. By embracing younger workers, we are securing a successful future for our sector, where new ways of thinking, fresh perspectives and technological innovation will be leading components in providing excellence in care.