Increasing qualification levels, linked to pay, under consideration in adult social care workforce strategy

Ideas for reform include expecting social care staff to be qualified to level 3 within three years and making providing registered managers with a supported year in which to develop, says co-chair of strategy steering group

David Pearson
David Pearson (photo credit: Neil O'Connor)

Increasing qualifications levels for the adult social care workforce – linked to higher pay – is among the ideas under consideration by the group developing a 15-year strategy for the adult social care workforce.

Other potential proposals include providing registered managers with a supported year in which to develop, developing a graduate training scheme for that role or making it a degree-level position.

The ideas were shared last week by David Pearson, co-chair of the steering group developing the strategy, in a session at the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services spring seminar.

The strategy is being developed by the group, which Pearson co-chairs with Oonagh Smyth, chief executive of Skills for Care, the organisation responsible for the plan.

Though the Department of Health and Social Care is not directing the strategy, it has representation on the group, alongside ADASS, the British Association of Social Workers, Social Work England, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and provider umbrella body the Care Provider Alliance, among others.

‘No important thing for sector than workforce strategy’

Pearson, a former director and ADASS president, said he thought there was “no more important thing for adult social care at this time, given the stats and the pressures” than the workforce strategy.

He cited the sector’s 9.9% vacancy rate, as of March 2023 (source: Skills for Care)compared to an economy-wide average of 3% (Office for National Statistics) – and the fact that 28% of staff (about 390,000) left their jobs each year (Skills for Care). The turnover rate was far higher among young people, at 53.7%.

“We’ve got a bit of a leaky bucket,” said Pearson. “A lot of people leave. We need to be equipping people to develop their careers.”

Pay and development key to retention

Pearson said there was evidence of what worked in promoting retention.

He cited Skills for Care analysis showing that turnover among independent sector care staff was more than twice as high when a worker lacked all of five elements – being paid more than the minimum wage, having access to training, having a qualification, being able to work full-time and not being on a zero-hours contract – compared to having all five.

Black file on a desk with the words 'employee turnover' written on it

Photo: Yurii Kibalnik/Adobe Stock

“This shows that there are a number of things that are in the gift of the sector if we choose to do it,” he added.

Pearson said the steering group was looking at how to enhance training and development among adult social care staff. One idea under consideration was to set a requirement or expectation for staff to be at least level 3 qualified (equivalent to A level) within three years of joining the sector, with such progression linked to higher pay.

Current qualification levels

Making social care a level 3 sector would be a significant step up from the current situation, in which just an estimated quarter of the workforce (excluding regulated professionals, who require a degree) held at least this tier of qualification as of March 2023 (Skills for Care).

It also exceeds the DHSC’s aim to make adult social care a level 2 sector (equivalent to a good GCSE), by rolling out its new care certificate qualification.

Even this is ambitious, with an estimated 43% of the non-regulated workforce holding at least a level 2 qualification as of March 2023 (Skills for Care).

As well as tying the suggested level 3 qualification to enhanced pay, the steering group is considering proposing that pay differentials more generally are tied to a worker’s development.

This would also mark a significant shift from the status quo, with Skills for Care data showing that an independent sector care worker with five years’ experience or more earned just 6p per hour more than one with less than a year’s time on the job.

Enhancing registered manager role

Another possible recommendation in the strategy would be enhancing the role of providers’ registered managers, either by making it a degree-level job, creating a graduate trainee scheme for the position or introducing a supported year of development for new recruits.

According to Skills for Care, services without a registered manager in post at the time of an inspection were less likely to receive a outstanding or good rating from the CQC during 2022-23. However,  the vacancy rate for registered manager roles was 10.6% as of March 2023, while the role had a turnover rate of 23.2% in 2022-23, said the workforce development body.

Currently, the CQC requires that registered managers have “the necessary qualifications, competence, skills and experience to manage the regulated activity”, but does not specify a qualification level.

Skills for Care recommends that they take the level 5 (degree level) diploma in leadership and management in adult social care, however, as of March 2023, an estimated 44% of registered managers did not have at least this level of qualification.

Strategy ‘will require extra investment’

Pearson acknowledged that the strategy, due to be published in July, would require extra investment in adult social care but said that the steering group’s intention was that it would be “fully costed”.

Blocks spelling out the word 'funding'

Photo: chrupka/Adobe Stock

“It’s our intention to come up with something that is robust, credible, evidence-based and has the right costings associated with it and an understanding that this cannot be provided unless the extra money is there,” he added.

With an election due by January 2024, Pearson said the steering group was engaging with the major political parties to understand their thinking on the adult social care workforce.

While the government has allocated £250m from 2023-25 to develop the adult social care workforce, this is a cut from its original plan of providing £500m from 2022-25.

Funding pressures

And though care workers have seen their wages rise in real terms over the past two years, due to consecutive 10% increases in the national living wage (NLW), councils are struggling to cover the costs in the fees they pay providers.

As providers must ensure staff receive at least the NLW (now £11.44 an hour) by law, this means they will struggle to maintain current pay differentials, let alone increase them to reward experience and qualifications.

In addition, with public sector net debt worth about 98% of national income as of March this year (source: Office for National Statistics) and taxation levels set to hit a post-war high in 2028-29 (source: Office for Budget Responsibility), the next government is likely to be wary of raising spending outside of priority areas such as the NHS and defence.

Pearson said that the steering group was looking to craft a message that enabled the next government to start implementing the strategy without being deterred by the costs.

“There’s something nuanced here that we enable progress to be made without saying in the first three weeks there’s a billion pound bill that no government can afford,” he said. “It’s better to come up with something we can start on, as well as a sector and with any government, rather than something that people say is too difficult.”

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2 Responses to Increasing qualification levels, linked to pay, under consideration in adult social care workforce strategy

  1. Qualified May 7, 2024 at 10:44 am #

    Now roll this out for higher management in Social Services. Let’s ensure all our team managers, heads of service and assistant directors are qualified also. Surely QSW’s should be managing teams of QSW’s.

  2. Hygea Home care May 8, 2024 at 7:48 am #

    We believe qualifications to a standard of level 3 are fundamental requisites for carers who have been in the sector for years; they also show a personal commitment to enhancing one’s knowledge and skill set. Rewarding qualified carers is equally fundamental in retaining the workforce; however, with LA constraints on funding, preferring lower-cost agencies over high-quality care agencies is a concern, resulting in poorer pay for carers, as agencies cannot cover the operational costs and higher pay rates.

    It seems the Government concentrates highly on the NHS, so it is good to see that reforms to the social care sector are promising for the future.

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