Must have experience

The government wants more qualified staff in residential care
settings, but how highly do employers value qualifications? Tim
Goadby’s national survey, with a wide variety of respondents,
provides interesting answers.

The government’s A Quality Strategy for Social
1 is the latest policy statement to focus on
developing the skills of social care’s employees. Eighty per cent
of these workers have no recognised qualifications or
training.2 The government proposes that all social care
staff will have access to some form of qualifications or training,
following nationally devised criteria to be developed by training
body TOPSS UKPartnership.

One area that will be affected is residential services, which
forms the largest group of workers within the social care
workforce. National standards being developed are likely to include
requirements for all homes to increase the level of qualification
among all their staff. Fit for the Future,3 a
set of draft standards for residential homes for older people,
proposed that, apart from home managers and registered nurses in
nursing homes, a minimum of 50 per cent of care staff should be
qualified to NVQ level 2 or equivalent by 2005.

While such targets are welcome, it is easy to foresee
difficulties in the area of cost. TOPSS has proposed that employees
pay for up to 15 per cent of their own training, and that employers
should spend a minimum of 3 per cent of staff costs on it. Yet the
residential care sector is associated with low wages and high
turnover and many of its employees may not intend to develop a
career within it. Individuals therefore may lack the motivation or
the means to contribute towards their own costs.

Furthermore, although TOPSS has expressed the hope that local
authority purchasers will back investment in training, by using
this as a criterion in the selection of services, providers fear
that any increased costs to them will not be reflected in the fees
received. They are also wary of spending money on training
employees who may leave them shortly afterwards. These cost fears
arise because the residential care sector is not persuaded of the
value and applicability of training.

The study described here,4 carried out as part of the
author’s MSc course at the University of Portsmouth, focused on the
learning difficulty sector. It demonstrates that organisations and
individuals consistently assign low importance to qualifications,
placing greater emphasis on the experience, attitude, and
availability of employees.

The study focused on direct support-giving posts. It looked at
the characteristics cited in recruitment advertising as being
required by candidates. In a total of 85 advertisements sampled,
being qualified in social care was mentioned as essential in only
three, and as desirable in a further five. Qualifications were
given less emphasis than practical factors, such as the ability to
work shifts; or previous experience of similar work; or subjective
traits, such as enthusiasm, or motivation. The low status given to
qualifications at the recruitment stage also carries through to the
value placed on them by those already employed in the field.

Based on the sampled advertisements a postal survey was devised
to find what rating people working in similar services gave to the
characteristics which appeared most often. This survey was
conducted with three groups:

  • Direct support givers.
  • Supervisors, who both provide support and have a role in staff
  • Recruiters, in senior management and personnel.

Respondents were drawn from organisations in England, Scotland
and Wales, which were involved in the provision of residential
services to people with learning difficulties.

Overall, people had surprisingly high expectations of candidates
for direct support giving posts. It was not unusual for them to
rank 22 of 25 survey items (characteristics cited in recruitment
advertising as being required by candidates) as either essential or
desirable. Indeed, 90 per cent of the valid scores received were
under these two ratings. However, in notable contrast to this,
having a qualification in social care scored very poorly. Of the
survey items, it received the lowest number of ratings in the
categories essential -just nine respondents (2.6 per cent) – and
desirable -Ê128 people (36.5 per cent). This cumulative score
of 39 per cent made it the only characteristic which was considered
neither essential nor desirable by over half of the survey
population, making it the least valued item by some distance. This
finding was consistent across all three groups surveyed. Worse
still, having such a qualification was actually considered harmful
by five respondents, out of a total of only 37 such scores in the
entire survey.

This evidence supports previous studies that found that courses
are frequently seen as being unrelated to the real world of

The low value accorded to qualifications seems to be at odds
with a high rating given in the study to a willingness to learn,
rated as essential by 270 respondents (75.6 per cent) and desirable
by a further 82 (23 per cent). While learning does not have to be
within the context of gaining formal qualifications, neither should
the two ideas be exclusive. One possible explanation for the
apparent discrepancy is that knowledge gained through formal
training outside service settings is not being transferred to
practice, and is therefore not perceived as meaningful.

At present, advertisements suggest that residential services
place a far greater reliance on previous experience than
qualifications, presumably in the belief that the most useful
learning is done “on the job”. Where is such experience to have
been gained if some services never take on anybody who is
completely new to the field? Interestingly, respondents in all
three groups in the study did not believe previous experience was
particularly important.

This negative picture of the benefits of qualifications in
social care is depressing because it should be clear that they do
matter. Direct support-giving staff are major figures in the lives
of users of residential services. It is a job that places a range
of demands upon postholders. Aside from giving intensive support,
staff become key people in residents’ social lives as well. They
may represent the closest non-disabled contacts some service users

The variety of tasks encompassed in providing direct support for
people in residential services can make the job a stressful one.
Such stress is heightened if employees are unsure of their role and
responsibilities. This can lead to job dissatisfaction and high
turnover, which affect service quality negatively. It is therefore
imperative that staff have a clear understanding of what is
required of them, and of how to fulfil those requirements.
Effective training can address such issues, and thereby improve
both performance and retention.

One encouraging finding of the survey was that a belief in equal
rights for residents scored highly among all respondents. However,
the low ranking given to qualifications must cast doubt on whether
there was informed understanding of all the implications of
subscribing to this principle. In residential services, direct
support givers are unlikely to have received any training in
quality of life issues. Without relevant knowledge, they may then
act in ways that are not beneficial or even detrimental to the
people they support.

It may be that the term “qualified in social care” is not well
understood, and perceived by people as signifying something remote
from their own employment experiences. This must change if the
intended progress in the field is to become reality. The drive
towards the development of specific training criteria for staff of
residential services is welcome, and should assist with this. At
present, any direct support givers with qualifications will
probably have gained these in social work or nursing, neither of
which are wholly applicable to work in residential services. And
the training undertaken by those who achieve senior positions tends
to be in management, rather than in philosophies and principles of

The presence of skilled and knowledgeable employees in
residential services is something that all users should have the
right to. It is likely to become increasingly important, as trends
in community care policy mean that it is the more impaired,
dependent clients who are likely to be the future users of such

1 Department of Health, A Quality
Strategy For Social Care
, DoH, 2000.

2 Government White Paper, Modernising
Social Services
, The Stationery Office, 1998.

3 Department of Health, Fit For The
Future? National Required Standards for Residential and Nursing
Homes for Older People
, DoH, 1999.

4 T Gloadby, The Right Person for the
Job? A Study of Recruitment Advertising for Direct Support Giver
Posts in Residential Services for People with Learning
. Available at the University of Portsmouth library,

5 SD Brookfield, Understanding and
Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles
and Effective Practice
, Milton Keynes: Open University Press,

Tim Goadby is registration and inspection officer, Royal
Borough of Kingston

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