Social care sector welcomes job creation plans

Long-term unemployed young people are to be offered social care training to set them on a career path. Louise Hunt reports

Chancellor Alistair Darling’s recent announcement that young people who have been unemployed for up to 12 months should be offered traineeships in social care is, many believe, long-awaited recognition that social care is a growth sector that can offer long-term career prospects. But with scant detail on how it will work, some may question exactly whom it will benefit.

Care First is a £75m cross-departmental strategy to get 50,000 jobless 18-24-year-olds into the social care workforce. Alistair Darling launched the scheme in his 2009 Budget speech as part of a wider pledge to offer young people a guaranteed job or traineeship in recruitment demand sectors, including social care, to avoid “a whole generation of young people abandoned to a future on the scrapheap”.

Subsidy for trainees

Further detail on Care First emerged in the adult social care workforce strategy, published on 23 April. During the 18-month scheme, the Department for Work and Pensions, through Jobcentre Plus, will give a £1,500 subsidy to traineeship providers for placements lasting up to six months. Providers can be from local government, the third or independent sectors and bids will be invited later this year.

The Department of Health, which is running the scheme, says placements will cover on-the-job training in non-professional roles in adult care. A spokesperson says trainees would not be offered social work posts due to the “professional training needed to become a social worker”, but adds: “We hope that some of the young people taken on under the scheme will be encouraged by the initial experience of the sector to become social work students”.

With the turnover for care workers in English independent agencies at an estimated 22% an obvious question is whether the government is hoping its strategy will neatly stem rising youth unemployment while plugging recruitment gaps in typically unpopular low paid domiciliary care work.

Targeting placements

The DH would not say whether it is targeting placements in care work, but reiterated that the emphasis was on encouraging young people into long-term social care careers. “We don’t want to put people into roles where they will leave in six months,” says the spokesperson.

The details of exactly how this can be achieved are still to be worked out but social care training and care sector bodies have strong views on how they would like to see Care First develop.

Great idea

Andrea Rowe, chief executive of Skills for Care, says the scheme is a “brilliant idea”, as a means to develop the next generation of care workers who are fully trained in the principles of personalisation. Rowe anticipates many placements will be in domiciliary care, particularly in independent living projects.

She says they are working with the DH on how its guidance and standards can be used by traineeship providers to ensure training leads to long-term careers. “I think it’s important that training is linked to the qualification framework to give people a sense that they can progress further.”

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Scie backing

The Social Care Institute for Excellence shares similar views. “We have an ageing workforce who will be heading towards retirement so it is very important to attract new staff in,” says Stephen Goulder, director of corporate services and workforce development.

High quality training is also a priority for the General Social Care Council, says its chief executive Mike Wardle. “The intention is for home care and other social care workers to register with the GSCC in the future, requiring qualifications, so it is important that any initiatives train people to the standards that will be required.”

Representatives of the employers most likely to take on trainees see Care First as a positive move. “It means at long last social care is being recognised as a significant employment sector where numbers will have to grow,” says Leslie Rimmer, chief executive of the UK Home Care Association. But, she argues, unless the paltry pay levels in domiciliary care are addressed, Care First’s ambitions are “unlikely to be realised”.

Young people cautious

Ginny Lunn, director of policy and development at youth charity the Prince’s Trust, which offers a “taster” scheme for social care in residential homes, says Care First has got a cautious welcome. A recent consultation on the scheme between young people involved in the charity and work and pensions secretary James Purnell showed they had “a lot of questions” about how they could compete with people with more skills who had been made redundant when it came to finding a job, Lunn says.

They also wanted to know who would benefit from the subsidies, because some were single parents and struggled to manage financially on training schemes.

Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, representing care homes, says of the scheme: “I don’t think it will plug the recruitment gaps alone, but it will bring in a new stream of people. I hope traineeships encourage young people to see the care sector as a career rather than a stop-gap job.”

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More information

Expert guide: Adult Social Care Workforce Strategy

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