The challenging landscape of social care

Clare Connell, Chief Executive and George Kelly, Business Analyst, at Connell Consulting

With a recently published Care England survey reporting that 95% of members are struggling to recruit and retain care staff, it is hard to overstate the workforce challenges that providers are currently facing. Similar problems can be seen across the whole of the UK. Rising care staff vacancies are being driven by a number of factors, including a rising number of jobs in the sector and high staff churn (driven by factors such as poor staff pay, burnout, and mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations). However, almost two thirds of care staff that ‘leave’ jobs actually remain within the sector. If providers want to avoid the worst effects of national staffing challenges, it is essential they focus on allocating dedicated resources to support improved staff retention, and in turn, commercial success going forward.

George Kelly

It’s clear that more funding is required to support providers with both recruitment and retention through this challenging period. The government has announced a further £300m of funding to support providers in the recruitment and retention of staff, which comes on top of the further £162.5m announced in October 2021. However, this falls far short of the £1.5bn the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services estimate is required to adequately tackle workforce shortages, leaving a gap in centralised funding that has placed huge pressures on both providers and local funders.

Existing challenges recruiting and retaining care staff have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The negative press surrounding the care sector in the early months of the pandemic, as well as the introduction of compulsory vaccination, has made the sector a less attractive place to begin a career. The Welsh government aim to help tackle this with a guarantee that all social care staff will be paid the Real Living Wage (RLW) of £9.90 from April 2022, with £43m committed to the scheme. Providers themselves are increasingly looking to introduce the RLW for their workforce, with Anchor and Belong most recently joining the growing list of operators committed to rewarding employees with increased hourly rates.

During the early phase of the pandemic Skills for Care reported that staff turnover rates decreased, however as the economy opens back up, staff retention is an increasingly difficult problem for care providers. To address this, Councils have begun introducing innovative technological solutions to improve job satisfaction for care staff.  In December 2021, a Commissioning Officer from Kent County Council told Connell Consulting that an app for carers was being developed by the local authority, with the aim of providing support and guidance to improve their mental health and resilience. Furthermore, some local authorities including Hertfordshire County Council have offered providers funds to give their staff ‘retention bonuses’ over the Christmas period to award their dedication. We expect this to become more common practice as staffing pressures endure.

Despite cash incentives and the more routine adoption of the RLW, providers argue more needs to be done to improve career opportunities in the sector. An offer of real career progression, with training and employee recognition for ambitious new recruits, will be key if issues with retention are to be properly addressed in the long-term. A survey was conducted by Skills for Care of employers in the sector with a staff turnover of less than 10%. Among the main activities reported to be contributing to high staff retention rates were investing in staff development, celebrating staff achievements, and involving colleagues in decision making. Providers are also finding success in improving retention by offering employees greater flexibility, with rigid shift structures which may conflict with other personal commitments pushing staff away from the sector. Providers can also organise the rotation of staff between different roles and tasks to reduce job fatigue.

Ultimately, providers have more control over their ability to retain their staff than recruit replacements, with the latter being more exposed to decisions of central government and other external market forces. In what is an increasingly challenging staffing landscape, training, developing, and nurturing the existing workforce should be the key priority for social care providers.

Edel Harris





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