Significant reform needed in adult social care to address skill shortages, says report

The Open University finds 44% of adult social care providers feel they only have the “bare minimum of skills” to ensure operations run successfully.

A new report from The Open University has called for “significant reform” to ensure adult social care providers can source and retain staff with the necessary skills once the pandemic begins to subside.

The survey of 500 leaders and managers across the adult social care sector reveals that whilst 76% felt they were currently sufficiently staffed, nearly half said that present staff only held basic level skills needed to ensure operations could continue.

The issues surrounding the attraction and retention of appropriately skilled social care staff was found to be most evident within third-sector social care, where 57% of employers reported that they were currently working with minimum staffing levels or below.

The increase of wider unemployment levels, the mounting pressure on care providers and staffing gaps caused by mass testing and self-isolation procedures over the course of the pandemic have contributed to both gaps in staffing capacity and the recruitment of staff who potentially lack skills needed in the changing care landscape caused by Covid-19.

More than two thirds (67%) of providers were now requiring different skills to those sought before the pandemic began as a result of changes adult social care services and operations have had to undertake due to Covid-19, the report reveals.

Both digital and leadership skills were flagged as key areas of concern for employers and almost a third of those surveyed also worried about a perceived lack of ‘technical’ or specialised practice skills within new recruits.
Alongside the impact of the pandemic, there are further complications for social care leaders around the UK’s departure from the European Union, with 54% concerned about the impact of Brexit on recruitment, as organisations find it harder to hire employees from the EU.
In addition, the report found that in the face of “continued uncertainty” surrounding both the pandemic and the effects of Brexit, employers said they would be needing to focus recruitment on those with ready-made skills, who can fill gaps quickly and therefore would require less training and investment over the coming months and years.

The Open University has listed four key recommendations for reform, including more sustainable funding, a radical re-think of social care training that focuses on skills gaps within the sector, increased career development possibilities, and changes to the ways social care is promoted as a career to young people.

The report found that more than two in five (42%) of social care employers said that a clear career framework combined with recognised qualifications would go some way to addressing the sector’s recruitment and retention challenges.

A further 34% suggesting an increased availability of pathways, such as those provided by the recently created degree apprenticeships, between social care and qualified social work roles as a possible solution.

Professor Samantha Baron, Head of School for Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University, said that the report showed how the pandemic had accelerated the effects of long-standing issues within the sector and called for wide-scale changes.

“Public services have been at the frontline of the response to COVID-19, and it’s no secret that the severity of the pandemic has tested the preparedness and resilience of adult social care. What’s also clear is that the pandemic has exacerbated longer-standing pressures,” said Professor Brown.

“We simply cannot afford to see these vital sectors further weakened, and for that reason The Open University is calling for a number of significant reforms to address skills needs and priorities for the future.

“Whether it be changing the way we promote the sectors to younger individuals or implementing a recognised career framework for social care in England, the onus is on us all - educators, governments, private companies and individuals - to protect and boost the critical support these sectors provide,” she concluded.

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