Proven Practice 11 June 2009: measuring care staff’s skills

The Social Care Institute for Excellence analyses the use of an online training resource to boost staff’s literacy, numeracy and communication skills

At least 20% of care workers lack the numeracy and literacy skills required by their jobs, and an equal number lack English language skills, a study by Skills for Care found in 2004. Many employers are aware of this skills shortage but they often do not feel confident about addressing the problem.

The Care Skillsbase, an online resource, was recently launched by the Social Care Institute for Excellence and Skills for Care to help managers evaluate the communication, literacy and numeracy skills of staff.

The website is easy to use and the assessments are paper-based, avoiding any need for staff to access a computer.

Although it is for assessment rather than training, it has value at all stages of the employment cycle from, interview and induction to ongoing supervision. It is suitable for all staff, including those from overseas.

Checking skills

Skillsbase contains a bank of 30 skills checks, each of which takes about 15 minutes to complete. It can be searched by skill, job role or common induction standard, so, for example, a skills check can be located for a senior care worker in one of the four skills areas:

● Spoken communications.

● Reading.

● Writing.

● Numbers at work.

Once a skills check has been selected the document opens with two versions, one for general use the other for domiciliary work. Each assessment comes with guidance as well as feedback and personal development forms. They are printable and can be saved in a secure, personalised area called “My Folder”, which is available after registering.

There is thorough support when carrying out the assessments including a short guide and videos of skills checks in action.

The assessments are work-based and practical in format, tasks include:

● Asking the staff member to look at a series of photographs of people and state what they are feeling.

● Asking the staff member to record fluid intake.

● Asking what different types of sign mean.

Managing skills

Carrying out a skills check assessment is only the beginning of the evaluation process; the “managing skills” section of the website provides guidance on the next steps towards improving skills.

It provides guidance on communicating with staff about skills, spreading good practice in the organisation, and lists national and regional support

Once a staff member has taken an assessment, managers are advised to follow a five-step process (when relevant) for the best possible follow up:

1 Review the documentation. Read over the feedback and personal development forms to locate any concerns about the staff member’s ability to communicate or deal with information. Also identify any concerns not recorded in the skills check documents.

2 Compare results against job requirements. Compare the results of the assessment with the skills required for the role to evaluate whether the person has the necessary skills to meet standards.

When relevant, compare the results against the skills listed in the person’s CV.

3 Assess risks. Identify which elements are critical to achieving the overall purpose of the role. Which of those are dependent on the member of staff dealing with information or communicating effectively?

Think about the consequences of the person failing to do this. Consider the extent to which they will struggle to deal with information or communicate effectively.

The more critical and frequent the task or activity, the greater the risk posed by the person’s lack of skills. When relevant take steps to support the individual or allocate the responsibilities elsewhere.

4 Monitor performance. All staff should be monitored whether there was cause for concern or not. The assessment is a starting point; monitoring provides a more thorough awareness of people’s ability to deal with information and communicate effectively.

If a person is found to be doing this well make a record of it but continue to monitor.

5 Be responsive. If monitoring reveals problems, take action quickly.

Show the staff member how they should be using information and communicating.

If this fails, talk the person through what is expected of them and explain how they are failing to meet these expectations.

Give the staff member time to consider your comments. Offer support and when relevant discuss options such as training or redesigning the work process.

However the process concludes continue to monitor closely and thoroughly involve the staff member in the review process.

Comparing standards

The “compare standards” section of the website offers a standards library, providing access to the main care workforce standards, and the compare standards tool, which allows users to see how the common induction standards (CIS) link to the NVQ in health and social care (level 2, 3 & 4) and the General Social Care Council codes of practice for workers.

The website enables users to see how the “outcomes” of each of the six CIS map to the GSCC code and the NVQ. There is also the option to refine the scope of the search to the relevant level of NVQ.

Managers can compare their own work processes against these three sets of standards to identity the information staff must understand and the way they should communicate.

These results can then be saved in “My Folder” for future reference.

Practitioners’ messages

● Some care workers lack the necessary numeracy and literacy skills to do their jobs well. With skills checks, and follow-ups, managers can address any skill shortage.

● Creating an environment in which staff feel supported and secure makes talking to them about skills gaps or training easier. Do this while being respectful, consultative, and encouraging. Avoid blame and anger.

● Put communication and literacy skills on the agenda from the beginning. It should be part of the recruitment process and reinforced with skills checks.

● When talking about this area, focus on the requirements of the task rather than on any member of staff’s lack of ability.

● Talk through the way you feel the task should be carried out and explain the way the member of staff is failing to manage this. Check that the staff member feels your assessment is fair.

● When a staff member is failing at a task check that it is because of a lack of skill rather than some other problem by asking questions to gauge their commitment to outcomes, procedures and working to the best of their ability.

● Talk to the staff member about the ways in which they can be supported. They should be given input into the creation of a development programme and the achievable goals tied to it.

● Throughout a development programme keep in touch with the staff member and acknowledge improvements to their performance with particular focus on how their increased effectiveness helps others.

Further information

 Care Skillsbase 

Teaching and learning communication skills in social work education

The National Skills Academy for Social Care

Skills for Care – Skills for Life

Research abstracts

Author BOND Luke (Producer)

Title Effective communication 2: written communication

Publisher BVS, 2005, (24 mins), DVD

Abstract The aim of this film is to highlight the importance of written communication in the context of social work and social care. It tackles the view that record-keeping and paperwork are an unnecessary burden and instead couches it in terms of the need to share information between people and agencies. It looks at a variety of different types of written record: incident forms; service user’s files; medication charts; telephone messages; and other documents. The explanations and techniques covered attempt to put these in context, advise on form usability and layout, comment on sharing/confidentiality and set out the roles and responsibilities of managers and care workers in undertaking written communication.

Author CLARK Jenny; JOCHUM Veronique

Title Third sector skills research 2008: further evidence and recommendations on skills gaps

publisher UK Workforce Hub, 2008, 37p

Abstract The UK Workforce Hub has published a report which outlines further evidence and recommendations on skills gaps in the voluntary sector. The research outlines what skills gaps organisations are experiencing, how employers in the sector assess and respond to these skills gaps, and how employers highlight and address the challenges of skills development. This study is based on the views of third sector employers in England, expressed in several focus groups. It explores in-depth some of the findings highlighted within the voluntary sector skills survey 2007.

Published in the 11 June edition of Community Care under the heading ‘Evaluating and supporting the basic skills of care workers’

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