Call to catch them young to correct gender imbalance

Nine in 10 social care workers are female – and this gender
imbalance is unlikely to change, according to recent research.

An Equal Opportunities Commission study published last month
says boys are interested in entering caring professions but are
denied the opportunity to do so.

The report found schools are failing to actively encourage
pupils to pursue non-traditional occupations. This prevents young
men being exposed to the benefits of working in the caring
professions; consequently they do not consider it as a career.

Some are actively discouraged from pursuing careers in subjects
dominated by women, even though more than half of the boys
questioned out of 1,836 pupils, say they would be interested in
them. A quarter of boys in England and one-fifth in Wales said they
would be interested in caring work, but only 3 per cent of child
care apprenticeships are male.

The findings prompted education secretary Ruth Kelly to suggest
that creating a more diverse gender mix in health and social care
could help tackle the sector’s workforce shortage.

Tony Hunter, president of the Association of Directors of Social
Services, agrees it is an issue that has to be tackled.

“We need to understand better what the obstacles [to men
entering the sector] are,” he says. “It is not a problem

for social care alone but the wider issue of gender stereotyping
in schools.

“We must never lose our values and principles but perhaps it is
a presentation issue – perhaps we need to sell it in a more
hard-nosed, ‘opportunities’ way.”

Many, including Hunter, hope the creation of the social work
degree will attract more men to the profession. However, initial
signs are disappointing. The General Social Care Council’s annual
quality assurance report for 2003-4 shows a small decrease in the
percentage of men studying for the degree*

Despite this, Andrea Rowe, chief executive of Skills for Care –
the social care sector skills council formerly known as Topss
England – remains upbeat about the future.

The new body is to be involved in one of the Department for
Education and Skills’ new Lines of Learning pilot schemes for 14 to
19 year olds. This will allow young people to choose from a broader
range of vocational courses, mix these with academic work and
achieve diplomas with an equal standing to GCSEs.

Rowe says: “We will be part of a wider public sector strand and
as people progress they can specialise more. I hope we’ll attract
an equal number of girls and boys. There will be a clear course
pathway, which is often more attractive to boys.”

But this is only part of the battle, she says. Employers and
clients will need to be convinced that it is acceptable for men to
give personal care.

Report available at

* Registraiton for degree and DipSW

Year        Men    Women   Total

2001-2   785     3,513       4,298

2002-3   810    3,960        4,770

2003-4   699    3,573       4,272

source: General Social Care Council

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