90,000.

That’s the number of live vacancies on any given day in adult social care across England and highlights the recruitment and retention challenges facing our sector. Yet we know that the jobs on offer are hugely rewarding personally and professionally.

This number comes from our National Minimum Data Set for Social Care. The same data show that average staff turnover of directly employed staff is 27.8%, and that figure has been growing since 2012/13 when it was running at 23.1%. That means some employers need to replace a third of their workforce every year.

High turnover has an impact on businesses, as constantly finding and training new people costs thousands of pounds each time. It is an important issue for quality, as it can lead to an inconsistent service for the people receiving care, when they have right to expect the exact opposite.

The challenge is not going away. Modelling in our report, The State of the adult social care sector and workforce in England, 2017, suggests that we will need to fill 275,000 new job roles in less than a decade.

That’s the bad news, but like so much of the reporting on our sector it masks some of the reality. As you might expect we have not been standing idly by hoping we can just find new people in the face of intense competition in the job market from other sectors.

The first thing to point out is that staff turnover isn’t uniformly high. Just over a quarter of our employers have turnover rates of less than 10%. We recently published Secrets of success, a report sharing what those employers do so well in finding and keeping people.

Our employers are not helped by the often negative media reports on social care and – while I am not in any way suggesting that we should not expose bad practice – it is worth remembering that 79% of services are rated good or outstanding by the Care Quality Commission.

We know that a lot of people leave quite early in their social care careers as they don’t always fully realise what the demands – and rewards – of the job are. It’s one reason why we promote values based recruitment to help employers find new recruits who have the right values, attitudes and behaviours. We are now seeing this working as people who have no prior experience or qualifications are doing well in social care as employers invest in the right people. Impact analysis shows that those employers using values based recruitment see return on investment of £1.23 for every £1 invested and on average have turnover rates 5.6% lower than the sector average.

With unemployment being relatively low we need to widen our search for new talent through looking at underrepresented people – including young workers – and we are working with JobCentre Plus and the Department of Work and Pensions on this, which is starting to show positive results.

Pay rates continue to be an area where we once again are locked in intense competition with other sectors where salaries may be more attractive, but without the incredible job satisfaction working in social care brings. We also need to be much clearer that adult social care is a sector with clear career pathways that can lead to senior management roles for those who want them. Indeed, I am one of the people who benefited from those pathways as I started as a social work assistant before progressing to leadership roles.

Employers who pay well and offer their workers career-long learning and development opportunities from day one will keep their workers. These sort of incentives work for everyone and, most importantly, for the people we serve day in and day out in our communities. It would be a real mistake to equate low pay with low skills as many care workers are providing support to people with incredibly complex needs, from people living with dementia to people with learning disabilities, and this tests care workers’ people and practical skills every day.

Yes, we have ongoing recruitment and retention issues and together with social care employers and other partners we are working hard to address them. You can help our case by reminding people that adult social care is far from an industry where standards are low; it is in fact a sector that our 1.45 million workers are proud to be a part of and that contributes over £40bn to England’s economy.

Sharon Allen is Chief Executive of Skills for Care, @sharonallensfc.

Find out more about Skills for Care’s value based recruitment offer or download The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England, 2017 (now free of charge).

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