Editorial comment: Deserting their posts

A disturbing new survey shows that care staff are deserting the sector in droves and that the numbers leaving continue to rise.

The National Care Forum, an umbrella body representing voluntary sector care providers, surveyed 38,000 staff, finding that nearly two-thirds quit their jobs within two years. Many of them are probably moving out of social care altogether.

This haemorrhage of skills, knowledge and continuity of care from both domiciliary and residential care has occurred despite the efforts that are being made to professionalise the sector. The General Social Care Council plans to embark on the complex business of registering tens of thousands of these workers and it will be a condition of registration that they acquire the qualifications they need to do the job effectively. In fact, there is evidence that in many places giant strides have already been made: the NCF survey revealed that 60 per cent of care staff had achieved NVQ level 2, up from less than 35 per cent last year.

In many ways this achievement has been helped by the hard work of Skills for Care and local authorities in developing and promoting NVQs as well as access to learning opportunities. But it is plain that much of it is being wasted. All sectors – voluntary, public and private – have improved their recruitment and retention policies for care staff, although it is now apparent that they still have a long way to go. Money is undoubtedly a factor. Wage rates continue to hover around the minimum and, as long as local economies are buoyant, staff will be tempted by better-paid jobs elsewhere, even if the pay is only slightly better and the non-monetary rewards are few.

Just as important, though, is career structure. Despite the progress on NVQs, employers’ aspirations for their care workers remain modest. As long as it continues to be a careers cul-de-sac – down there with the other three “C’s”, catering, cleaning and cash registers – care will be short of ambitious, committed staff. Every care worker should know about the promotional ladder, be clear how they can climb it and what they have to achieve in order to do so. Each rung of the ladder should be linked to qualifications, performance and pay. Once care workers have a profession to be proud of, they will be loyal to it. CC

Additional reading
Skills drain afflicts voluntary sector

Further information
National Care Forum

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