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
    care.

    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
    training.”

    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
    developed.”

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