Skills for Care: Reflects on workforce

Oonagh Smyth, CEO of Skills for Care, says its latest report shows critical opportunity to value, develop and reward our social care workforce.

I write this column as our Workforce Intelligence Team crosses the t’s and dots the i’s on the release of our 2021 ‘The State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in England’ report .

Our annual report provides a deep insight into the current state of the adult social care workforce, looking at vacancy rates, job roles, demographics, trends and forecasts.

This year’s report has found that the number of filled job posts within the sector has fallen for the first time on record. At the same time, vacancy rates are increasing; our data shows we have an average of 105,000 jobs advertised in the sector on any given day. As of August 2021, vacancy rates are now higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Turnover rates also remain high at 28.5%. While turnover decreased during the pandemic, employers tell us that, as of March this year, retention has become increasingly challenging in a very competitive employment market.

To help the sector address this issue, we are spotlighting information and resources for retaining staff with our #RetainToGain activity throughout October and November.

While an increase in vacancy rates may appear disheartening, it is also an opportunity for the sector – an opportunity for new people to build a fulfilling career within our sector and bring their skills and passion to support people to live the lives they want in our communities.

That is why we must focus on attracting new people to the sector. We need to showcase the opportunity to build a long-term career in social care, to become a part of a skilled workforce, and to provide personalised care to the people who draw on it.

We must also work to increase public recognition and appreciation for the skills of the social care workforce and the vital support they provide. And we must ensure our social care workforce is valued, supported and compensated accordingly for the important work that it does. That’s part of our three-year strategy, which we launched recently.

Another opportunity presented from the latest report is to make the social care a sector committed to equality for people from diverse backgrounds. Our data shows us that 21% of the social care workforce is from diverse backgrounds, yet only 15% hold senior roles.

We must continue to strive to make the sector an inclusive place to work at all levels and we need to take proactive steps to increase diversity at the top level, like our Moving Up programme for leaders with diverse backgrounds.

We can see that the way in which people draw on care is continuing to shift towards home care. Job roles in domiciliary care services increased by 7.4% – or 40,000 jobs – in 2020/21. People who draw on care services say they want to live in a place they call home and we need to ensure the promised reform of social care recognises this desire, enabling people to draw on care in the way that works best for them.
The national living wage (NLW) has meant a 6% increase in the median nominal care worker hourly rate from March 2020 to March 2021.
However, our data also shows care workers with at least five years’ experience in the sector are paid just 6p more per hour than care workers with less than one year of experience.

Our recent ‘Value of Adult Social Care in England’ report found that social care is a growing market, currently contributing £50.3 billion to the English economy. One of its recommendations was that we need to properly reward and value care workers for their high skill levels and dedication.

This latest version of our annual ‘The State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce’ report has highlighted the pressures our social care workforce is currently facing and how this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. It also shows us how we can grow, and what is needed to reward and recognise our dedicated workforce and to attract new talent to the sector, to allow people to live their lives in the way that they want now and in the future.

And none of this would be possible without the 20,000 social care organisations that share their data with our Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set (ASC-WDS) to make this report and the insights it offers possible, and we thank them for continuing to do so right through the worst of the pandemic.


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

About Oonagh Smyth

Oonagh Smyth is CEO of Skills for Care. For seven years she was Executive Director of Strategy and Influence at Mencap leading a directorate of around 500 people across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Oonagh has held roles at the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action and the Northern Ireland Equality Commission, senior roles in Westminster Equalities Partnership and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. She is a former Co-Chair of the Care and Support Alliance, which is a cross-sector alliance of 80 social care organisations influencing at the highest Government levels.

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