Guest blog: The social care recruitment crisis – Addressing challenges and shaping a brighter future
Kirstie Jones, Chief People Officer at Salutem Care and Education, offers insights into the challenges the sector has been grappling with and presents a vision for change.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, England has faced an unprecedented recruitment crisis in the social care sector. With more than 390,000 people leaving the profession in the past year and a staggering 152,000 vacancies reported by Skills for Care, the urgency to address this crisis cannot be overstated.
One of the most alarming trends during this crisis has been the increasing reliance on agency staff to fill the gaps in the workforce. This is not conducive to delivering high-quality care and support, as individuals receiving care may find themselves interacting with unfamiliar faces regularly. Waking up to an unfamiliar caregiver can be disconcerting for those in need of support.
Within Salutem Care and Education, we have been taking innovative approaches to redress the balance and improve retention rates, showing change is possible.
There are several key factors contributing to the recruitment crisis, with one prominent issue being low pay. At times, care workers have found themselves earning less than employees in positions like supermarket shelf stacking.
While pay is undoubtedly a significant concern, many care workers are motivated by more than just money. It’s a case of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which includes physiological needs, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualisation. For many, working in care fulfils their higher-order needs related to values and purpose.
Addressing the recruitment crisis requires a multifaceted approach. Merely offering above-minimum-wage pay rates may not be enough. At Salutem, we are drawing inspiration from the NHS's competency skills framework and implementing a similar system in social care. This framework, organised around three pillars – values, leadership skills and skill set, provides a clear career pathway for care and support workers. It allows them to see how their skills can lead to higher pay and recognition, encouraging career development within the sector.
The importance of transparency and clarity within the pay scale and competency framework cannot be underestimated. Employees should know where they stand, how they can advance, and how they will be rewarded for their qualifications and experience. This approach replaces traditional appraisals with a more dynamic personal development plan like individual’s care plans, fostering a sense of purpose and direction for every employee.
Salutem Care and Education's experience demonstrates that this holistic approach can lead to remarkable career progression and improved retention. By offering a clear framework for skill development and recognition, the organisation has witnessed its workforce thriving even during a staffing crisis.
One example is a lady who works in one of our children's services. She was a support worker and then became a senior. She's now the deputy manager and she did that using the competency framework.
There also needs to be a shift in the narrative surrounding social care. The sector deserves recognition for the skilled and compassionate work its professionals provide. They are as valuable as NHS staff and should be celebrated accordingly. This shift in perception could attract more individuals to the sector – not just for jobs but for lifelong careers dedicated to making a meaningful difference in the lives of those they support.
The social care recruitment crisis in England is a complex issue that demands a comprehensive solution. We have a blueprint for addressing the crisis by implementing competency-based pay scales, fostering transparency, and changing the narrative surrounding the sector. With these changes, social care can attract and retain the skilled professionals it needs to provide the highest quality care to those who depend on it.