Nearly half of adult social care employers operating with or below ‘bare minimum of skills’, survey finds

Survey of 500 social care leaders – a quarter of whom employ social workers - also finds employers looking for recruits with ready-made skills who can fill gaps quickly in wake of Covid-19

The word 'skill' listed highlighted in a dictionary
Photo: Feng Yu/Adobe Stock

Nearly half of social care employers are operating with or below the bare minimum of skills required to run operations successfully, a new survey has found.

The Open University research found significant skills shortages, with 10% of respondents reporting they lacked vital skills to run their operations successfully, with a further 34% saying they had the bare minimum of skills required among their teams.

Of the 125 local authority social work leaders surveyed, 12% said they were short of vital skills they needed to operate.

The survey examined skill shortages, the potential impacts of Brexit and Covid-19 and recruitment and retention.

Growing gap in social work leadership skills

When asked about their current skills priorities, respondents cited digital (36%), leadership (33%), technical (31%) – where employees require a specialised skill to complete a specific task – and managerial (30%) skills as key areas of concern.

Respondents in key sectors also said their needs for leadership skills had increased in the wake of Covid-19, including in social work, where the proportion reporting gaps rose from from 21% to 29%.

When asked about recruitment and retention, nearly half (46%) of those surveyed said they were looking for recruits with ready-made skills, who could fill gaps quickly and were “capable of adapting to future challenges”. Meanwhile, 40% said increasing candidate diversity would be a priority, a proportion that rose to almost half (48%) among respondents from local authority social work teams.

The survey revealed significant concerns over finding and retaining candidates of sufficient quality. Weighing the next 12 months, 56% said they were worried about the lack of clear progression pathways putting people off the social care sector. Comparable proportions (56%) were concerned about being unable to retain good staff as the pandemic eases over the coming year.

When asked about what “big picture changes” would be most beneficial for the social care workforce, 42% of respondents highlighted the availability of defined career development, including recognised qualifications.

A slightly smaller proportion (34%) cited the increased availability of pathways, such as those provided by the recently created degree apprenticeships, between social care and qualified social work roles.

Calls for reform

The Open University listed four recommendations in its report:

  1. Promote social care to a new audience.

The report said promoting locally and nationally the values and increasing levels of skill needed to perform social care jobs well could help ensure potential applicants, especially younger people, view it as a positive option rather than – as a majority of our survey respondents fear – a stopgap.

  1. Implement structured development.

Learning from the devolved nations, reform should proceed with the goal of registering social care workers and creating a nationally recognised career framework for England, which is also flexible enough to meet workforce requirements in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the report said.

“Promotion of adult social care’s benefits needs to be underpinned by robust and transferable development pathways – including into social work roles – if existing workers are to be retained and high-quality new recruits brought and kept onboard as the pandemic subsides.”

  1. Target skills gaps.

“Deficits around caring skills and operational management capabilities demonstrate how vital it is to be bringing people with the right values into social care, and offering them means and incentives to progress,” the report said.

  1. Sustainably fund the sector.

As 39% of survey respondents pointed out, the report said, the part of the solution lies in more constructive relationships between the public bodies that commission many services and the independent-sector organisations that deliver them.

“But those partnerships need more fertile soil in which to grow – which can only be provided in the form of a sustainable long-term funding settlement for the wider adult social care sector.”

‘Cannot afford to see social care further weakened

Professor Samantha Baron, head of school for health, wellbeing and social care at The Open University, said it was no secret that the severity of the [Covid-19] pandemic has tested the “preparedness and resilience” of adult social care.

“We simply cannot afford to see these vital sectors further weakened, and for that reason, The Open University is calling for a number of significant reforms to address skills needs and priorities for the future.

“Whether it be changing the way we promote the sectors to younger individuals, or implementing a recognised career framework for social care in England, the onus is on us all – educators, governments, private companies and individuals – to protect and boost the critical support these sectors provide,” Baron said.

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2 Responses to Nearly half of adult social care employers operating with or below ‘bare minimum of skills’, survey finds

  1. Sally January 24, 2021 at 1:38 pm #

    I dont want a career pathway into social work. I went into care work because I beleive looking after and ensuring dignified care to vulnerable residents is important. Our service and us workers are not a second rate adjunct to social work. The problems in our sector can be resolved very simply if there was political will and committment to this. I have two care jobs. Why? Because I am on a zero hour contract and I get paid if and when I am called in to work. Because our hourly rates of work are so low that without a second job I would have to apply for UC. Give us security at us a fair wage pay us suck pay, pay us holiday pay, pay us for the uniforms we are required to wear rather than charge us for them. It’s dispiriting to continually read even from those advocating for us how we are second to qualified social workers. It’s disheartening to see the effort ADASS hasput I to get funding for the companies that employ us without ensuring that some of the extra cash is spent on us and the residents. Fir all of the crocodile tears of our bosses about relatives not being able to visit, they are glad as now there is absolutely no oversight on the services we provide. CQC are not fit for purpose either. I was interviewed by an Inspector and rather than listen to my experiences, she was more interested in complimenting us for the “lovely” garden. No one asks the right questions to find out the real experiences of residents. No one is interested in finding out how money driven our sector is. Most of my collagues dint want to train as social workers, the comments here about SWE are not exactly inspiring. Pay us fairly and respect us, that’s all we want.

  2. Ann Crossley February 2, 2021 at 4:14 pm #

    I agree with the all of the hearfelt comments above and unless we address those issues there will be no progress.
    We expect so much from care staff yet the government fails to make sure they are paid a decent living wage and ensure they have decent,safe working conditions – like MP’s do………