North east conference addresses social care staff shortages

Increasing the supply of labour is key to addressing the
recruitment and retention crisis in social care. The UK economy is
growing and unemployment hit a 25-year low in May. Wages,
especially in the private sector, are growing faster than the
retail price index.

So working collectively to create a larger pool of potential
social care employees is critical. It was the aim of “Working
Together to Develop the Health and Social Care Workforce”, an event
held in Warrington, Lancashire, 29 April.

Sandra Shorter, workforce development manager for the event
organisers Cheshire and Merseyside Strategic Health Authority,
said: “When I was a manager of home care services in Chester the
arrival of a business park and several retail parks together with
the tourist trade made recruitment into social care difficult. My
frustration stemmed from knowing it was going to get worse.”

But it was not just outside employers who were scooping the
pool. “We would train people to NCVQ level 2 or 3 and suddenly they
became attractive to NHS employers,” says Shorter.

So it was clear that the social care sector had to raise its
profile in collaboration with other partners.

The event brought together private, independent and voluntary
sector employers with eight local authorities in Cheshire and
Merseyside and their NHS Primary Care Trusts to share information
about a range of national and local initiatives designed to promote
careers in health and social care.

Delegates focused on the need to tap into the “untapped
potential” of hard to reach and underused sectors of the labour
force, such as the long-termed unemployed, those on incapacity
benefit or carers allowance, and from ethnic minorities. Yvonne
Clarke, community and regeneration manager for Central Cheshire PCT
outlined the benefits of the intermediate labour market (ILM)
projects that offer support to develop pre-employment skills.

Attention was drawn to the under-utilised skills, experience and
motivation within the over-50s by Myrtle Lacey, chief executive of
Age Concern Wirral, who spoke about its projects to encourage older
people to consider entering or returning to work particularly
social care.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the conference heard of
schemes directed at secondary school children, where careers
co-ordinators work with school careers advisers, Connexions and
teachers to develop a positive image for health and social

Shorter says: “Through using careers fairs and work experience
through modern scholarships for 14 to 16-year-olds, school children
discover the wealth of transferable skills that can be acquired in
health and social care and how these can be applied in a variety of
settings throughout their lifetime. Project work continues for the
next age group, with 16 to 19-year-olds being encouraged to join
the Merseyside and Cheshire NHS Cadet Academy. “The Academy
originated at Aintree Hospital and trains health and social care
workers from a cross-section of organisations.

The message that resonated throughout all the contributions and
examples of various schemes was that partnership work is essential
if the recruitment issue is to be successful tackled.

Perhaps the most important aspect of bringing partners together
is the ability to create joint approaches when it comes to
identifying and applying for funding for training. Shorter says: “I
have been approached by many smaller employers who have said to me
they simply do not have the capacity or the skills to apply for
funding, and that it seemed to them to be inequitable and more a
question of who you know when it came to distribution of funds for

The collaborative approach has succeeded in finding additional
funding from several sources that has enabled the recruitment of
project workers to co-ordinate activity. Sheila Adams from Greater
Merseyside Learning Skills Council spoke of intentions to further
consolidate this work through sector skills councils and
partnership planning.

Shorter concludes: “Each local community has now produced an
action plan to progress the work to date and to promote inclusivity
of all employers in the sector in the range of projects being

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