Straight Talk

Adam Carter shares ways to improve the sector’s recruitment situation in 2016.

Adam Carter, Managing Director, Carter Schwartz

2015 was undoubtedly the year staffing shortages in social care leapt to the public’s attention. The shortage of nurses and care workers to manage demand became all too apparent, as did the lack of skilled senior managers and leaders who can deliver successful outcomes. Add an ageing care workforce to the equation and you would be forgiven for thinking that, against this backdrop, the future of the sector looks bleak in the year ahead.

However, a break in the clouds is possible which could shine a light on the care sector in 2016 for all the right reasons – providing it learns how to tap into the talent base it needs to safeguard its future.

Vacancy rates for nurses in social care are running at 9% compared to 7% in the NHS, with nursing homes reporting a 55% increase in the use of external agencies. This is being compounded by the fact that 30% of all care home nurses in England are aged 55. Combined, these factors are what led the recent Independent Age and the International Longevity Centre-UK report to warn that the sector faces a possible shortfall of one million care professionals by 2037 – 50,000 in 2016 alone.

Then there is the issue of leadership. Pressure on budgets is having a direct impact on the number of middle managers being developed as future leaders. This means there is an increasing absence in the number of available senior managers and leaders with the skills and strategic business acumen to run organisations. This is not exactly news. But over the last 12 months we have seen a move on behalf of some independent care providers to remedy this problem – a move which it is hoped will catalyse others to follow suit.

Barchester Healthcare is a case in point. They have created the role of ‘care practitioner’ whereby a senior carer (NVQ level 3) is given a greater level of training which allows them to take on some parts of the nurse’s role. This up-skilling of their workforce will provide them with 150 care practitioners on the floor each year. Thereby plugging many of the gaps. But the up-skilling of staff needs to be extended to every level of the organisation. Everyone considering a career within the sector, regardless of whether in a medical or administrative capacity, needs to see that there is a clearly defined pathway through which employees can progress. Even if their ambitions stretch all the way to the top of the organisation.

This needs to be supported by training routes, perhaps dual training which allows individuals to progress their career in both health and social care without the need to retrain, that will help people to further their careers without the need to jump ship and swim to the NHS’s shores where further opportunity awaits.

This is one area where the care sector has fallen woefully short and a key reason as to why the shortage of staff both entering and staying in the independent sector is more acute than the NHS. Turnover rates in the care sector have been on the rise for some time and much of that is down to its inability to ‘sell’ itself as a career of choice – something that the NHS is much better at doing. By better extolling the benefits and opportunities to be gained in having a career in the care sector and working hard to boost their appeal as an ‘employer of choice’, providers will go some way to overcome the difficulties they face in recruiting the talent they need. Until they do, it is unlikely that we will see any sort of slowdown in the use of workers from overseas over the next 12 months.

For some reason, women dominate the care sector but, the higher up the ladder you look, the fewer women you see occupying senior management and Board level roles. Indeed, only six women have appeared in the top 100 most powerful people in health in almost a decade. This is a significant factor in the shortfall of leaders within the sector and one that we expect will be given greater attention in the coming year.

Indeed, as the Government’s gender diversity agenda develops apace, care providers will need to make it clear that there is a direct path to leadership, with opportunities for advancement including formal programmes to facilitate women’s development as they move up to the next level…and the one beyond that. The care sector can only benefit, and become stronger, with gender diversity. Until it learns how to do this, it will continue to miss out on many of the right people to do the right jobs.

There is no silver bullet to fixing the recruitment issues that affect all levels of the care sector. The very act of setting the ball rolling and implementing some of the initiatives above will shift some of the obstacles. In doing so, the care sector could shake off some of the stresses and recruitment strains it experienced in 2015 and start the next 12 months with a renewed sense of optimism.

Do you face recruitment issues? Do you think it’ll improve in 2016? Share your thoughts below. Subscription required.

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