post image

Adapting to change: Supporting the social care workforce

Skills for Care has been working to ensure that help is available for not just maintaining the workforce but developing people too. Here, Oonagh Smyth shares details of this work and how you can access it.

In times of crisis, staff need support – and this includes managers.

One of things that became very clear as I joined the ‘Clap for Care’ communal gathering on my street is that people were showing their appreciation for both care workers and their NHS colleagues.

As a result of the crisis, and for very sad reasons, social care has been prominent. I hope that it means people understand more about what the 1.49 million care workers do and are prepared to do to risk their lives to keep people safe and well.

There is a greater understanding of the depth of skills of people who work in social care, their motivation and dedication which I know all of social care is keen to build on.

One of the strengths of Skills for Care is our insight into the sector. We have 54% coverage of the sector in our workforce intelligence work through Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set (ASC-WDS) and we are grateful to the thousands of employers who supply their data. It’s a big ask but we need them to keep doing that so we can make sense of what happened during the crisis so we can make coherent workforce planning decisions post pandemic.

Vacancy and absence

Before the virus, we already had a vacancy rate of around 7.8% – equivalent to around 122,000 vacancies on any given day – with turnover running at 38%.

The latest research from our Workforce Intelligence analysts found the percentage of days that have been lost to sickness has almost tripled from 3% to 8% in March/April compared to usual levels. If we apply that figure to the whole workforce it equates to around 2.3 million more days lost to sickness than would usually be expected.

These overall figures, however, mask some of the differences within the sector. Some employers are successfully recruiting and retaining staff and are not experiencing increased absence rates, whereas others are struggling.

Skills for Care already had a safe and fair recruitment guide to encourage considerate, inclusive and safe recruitment practices when hiring new staff. We worked quickly to develop a supplement to help employers recruit key staff and volunteers safely and rapidly to COVID-19 eligible roles. The supplement contains downloadable resources, including a COVID-19 safer recruitment checklist, criminal record self-declaration form and risk assessment templates.

Despite the pressures, it was important that the safety and wellbeing of people using care services remained a priority. Employers of all sizes are able to access COVID-19: Safe and rapid recruitment principles that can help them address their additional workforce recruitment challenges.


Once employers have recruited people they feel are the right fit for them, with the core values needed to become great care workers, then it is critical they can access high-quality, rapid induction training.

We worked with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to quickly train new recruits and volunteers and to give existing staff new training.

Employers are able to find all the information, and can access funding to support with training needs, on the dedicated Essential Training webpage.

Managers need support

The response to COVID-19 has confirmed what we already knew, that the 22,500 registered managers across the country were critical to the sector dealing with, and then coming out of, the crisis. Their flexibility, leadership, resilience, creativity, and problem solving based on their experience has made a huge difference on the ground.

Skills for Care has already begun work to understand the needs of existing managers, to support their ongoing wellbeing and resilience, and to understand what skills and resources they need to cope with new challenges and what will be a changing market.

Supporting managers in the crisis

We’ve offered a series of COVID-19 webinars to support managers and their services during the pandemic, ranging from human resources and recruitment topics through to essential training and keeping the team motivated. They are delivered live to participants and posted to our website for further viewing.

We knew from the intelligence we were gathering that employers were dealing with emotionally draining situations at work, supporting people through lockdown and losing people they had long-standing relationships with. We worked with a range of employers to create a self-support tool to help staff with aspects of feelings and communication at work, mapping out practical steps to help staff manage their own reactions, or the reactions of others, during difficult moments at work.

Supporting managers in the future

In the future, managers will need to be supported to continue to deliver high standards of care. For the owners and directors of care services, this will mean providing continued development, professional supervision, timely mentoring and the ability to engage with their peers across both social care and health.

To support that, we have expanded our support to registered managers and other frontline managers combining opportunities for bite-size learning, peer support, advice and guidance and action learning. We are targeting new managers with support and reaching out to those struggling in services falling below CQC standards.

Supporting organisations to succession plan

There remains a growing need for managers across the sector. Even before COVID-19, there was a 22% annual turnover of registered managers across England, with many leaving the sector. An 11% vacancy rate of registered managers across our sector means that thousands of services will have gone into the pandemic without a person in this post.

Regulated services need a high-quality registered manager, but they also need to have in mind where their next managers are coming from. Succession planning remains important and every service, regardless of size, should be identifying and developing emerging talent into future senior care workers, team leaders, deputy managers and beyond.

Our Developing new managers and deputies guide helps employers to identify such talent, recommends practical ways to develop them through delegating tasks and providing new opportunities to upskill them, and suggests the nationally recognised qualifications and courses that can help. To complement this, a new Time to manage guide has been produced focusing on the benefits of empowering the workforce and effective delegation.

Supporting managers to support each other

Many managers have drawn on peer support over the years, helping them to share good practice, sense check ideas, problem solve together or share costs.

Skills for Care’s Registered Manager Network has connected thousands of managers with local services and these relationships have proved especially important during the pandemic. With face-to-face meetings no longer possible, a swift shift to WhatsApp groups meant managers could support one another on a daily basis throughout the emergency.

In April, Skills for Care opened the registered manager members Facebook group to non-members and other managers, and that group has grown rapidly. This is providing real-time peer support where it is needed most and comments from managers have highlighted the added value this brings to their role.

Maintaining these new links and the use of technology to look beyond services will continue to be critical over the coming months.

We have seen the value of connecting peers at other levels together in the development process as part of programmes such as the interactive Lead to Succeed for aspiring managers, which often brings together emerging talent from multiple organisations.

Skills for Care is now helping to establish Deputy Manager Networks across the country so deputies can build relationships with other services and grow their own community of peer support.


The use of technology has exploded across the sector over the past few months. We have created guidance around the technology needed for effective virtual interviewing including the preparation you can do, the support you can give to help a potential candidate, how to run the interview and the steps after the interview to support a successful new recruit.

But we also know this was new territory for many employers so we developed our communication and collaboration tools to provide a snapshot of the different digital products, like Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to support socially-distanced recruitment activities. We also included tips for communicating and collaborating with colleagues remotely as employers were telling us this was happening much, much more.

The future

The future is uncertain in terms of when lockdown will end and different approaches for people who are shielded, which will impact those accessing and working in social care. The sector will continue to need support, particularly around recruitment and retention, development, technology and leadership.

In a post-COVID-19 world, leaders and managers will need to keep a close eye on resources and advice as it becomes available; all our updates are available on I would also encourage all registered managers to join one of the local networks that have been so effective during the crisis

Speak to our locality managers to let them know what you are seeing on the ground and make sure you complete your ASC-WDS returns so that we know what is happening and can feed that into Government and other partners. We know evidence based on quality data is one of the most effective ways we can influence change.

The challenge for all of us is to make sure that the sacrifices of our workforce lead to better access to career-long learning and development that meets their needs.

Most importantly, we want to play our part in ensuring the role social care has in supporting people is recognised and valued.

Oonagh Smyth is Chief Executive of Skills for Care. Email: Twitter: @oonaghsmyth

How have you kept a focus on your staff in this pandemic? Have you been able to identify talent and start thinking about upskilling individuals? Share your experiences with others by commenting on this article.

Related Content

Making an Impact

Attracting Young talent: Hiring the next generation

Calling for a better future for Social Care

Engagement, activity and social distancing

A changing landscape for digital solutions in social care

Reflections on management during COVID-19

Making ends meet: Short-term funding support

Inside CQC – Debbie Ivanova

Leadership through a crisis

Where we’ve got to: Government’s response to COVID-19 so far

What if…? A different social care

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Caring for Care Workers. Donate to The Care Workers’ Charity and make a difference Donate