Is it just me…?

Des Kelly reflects on the call for more men to work in social care.

Who would have guessed that a comment on the lack of men working in social care would attract such attention? Given the muted interest following the summer announcement about the delay in implementing funding reforms or ongoing concerns about the growing crisis in care and serious worries about long-term sustainability, it is curious that it was this item that peaked awareness of the care sector workforce. Now that the dust has begun to settle on this debate I’m interested to revisit the issue.

Staffing time-bomb

It appears that the storm started with a report published by the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK) and Anchor that called for more men to be recruited into the care sector to tackle a ‘staffing time-bomb’ caused by a predicted rise in older people likely to require social care in the future. Of course ‘storms’ and ‘time-bombs’ and the like always attracts media interest. The report warned that if current trends continue, England could face a shortfall of 718,000 care workers by 2025. The report claimed the gap in the number of care workers needed could be filled by men and older workers, who might not previously have considered working in care as a career. The argument was also run that, as an increasing number of men are living longer, more men will be needed in the future to assist in meeting their personal care.

Government statistics show 84% of carers across the sector in England are women, and just 16% are men – apparently this figure has remained static since 2012. Interestingly, however, Carers UK estimates that the proportion of informal carers that are male is 42.3% which highlights that many men are, in fact, already involved in providing care and support.

Workforce survey

There can be little doubt that there are major issues faced by the care sector relating to the workforce. At the NCF, we have undertaken a survey for each of the last 12 years and have been tracking the age profile, qualification rates and turnover of staff. We have consistently found that the workforce in the care sector is ageing and our data from June 2015 found 50.3% of staff are aged 45 or over. There are corresponding concerns at the other end of the age range, as only 11.5% of the workforce is under 25 years of age. In my view, the most pressing priority is the recruitment of young people to the care sector – both men and women.

The turnover rates in the care sector are scary – 21% for those working in care homes, 25% in domiciliary care and rising to 27.5% for nurses working in adult social care. However, the data on ‘churn’ generates even more alarming numbers, with around 30% of workers leaving within a year of recruitment and 58% after three years in post. The worst of it is we don’t know where they are going – let alone why. Even allowing for the fact that a proportion will be leaving for positive reasons such as promotion or professional development, this must represent a huge amount of waste by the care sector. A waste of money, time and potential.

Attract and retain

What is clear is that we need to recruit more people to work in care, including more young people; and we need to do all we can to encourage them to stay longer than they currently do. That has to be about the ethos we create, stimulation, training, development, teamwork, motivation and support – all matters for leaders and managers.

There is clearly a role for schools and career agencies to have a good understanding of the career development opportunities that exist within social care. This should include details of career paths, learning and development, as well as promotion prospects. We should be emphasising the stability of a position working in care along with the potential to progress.

I believe that the care sector is best served by a workforce that truly reflects the people it seeks to support. It, therefore, needs to be diverse, with women and men, different ages, a broad ethnic mix and so on. Most of all, we need people who have the right values and attitudes to ensure that, whatever the setting, people receiving care and support are treated as individuals with dignity and respect and that the services are properly personalised to meet their needs.

Are you a man working in social care? Do you feel in the minority? Do you agree with Des? Sign in to share your thoughts. Subscription required.

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