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Everyone who works in social care, from Boards and Executive Teams to frontline care and support staff knows how tough life is right now! Optimism in the health and social care sector is in short supply at the moment, but despite the challenges, the commitment across the sector to provide the best service possible to the most vulnerable in our society remains high. Leaders right across the sector remain engaged and determined, but if you cast a glance through Skills for Care’s ‘State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in England 2016’ report published last month, the challenges facing the sector really do hit home. OK, yes it’s 116 pages long so maybe just read the Executive Summary? And if you’re really pushed for time, there’s always the helpful infographic that provides the headline numbers in an easily digestible form.

The social care workforce has increased by 18% since 2009 and is projected to increase by another 18% by 2025, meaning an extra 275,000 extra jobs will be created taking the total number of people working in a range of front line, supervisory and management social care jobs to around 1.83m. Without Government understanding and support for the 90,000 EU workers currently employed in the sector, this will potentially create a significant post Brexit challenge and with the real likelihood of the overall pool of available workers nationally reducing over that time. Against that backdrop, health and social care organisations will have to fight other perhaps higher paying industries and sectors for people with the right capabilities and values. So in short…’Houston we have a problem’!

The Skills for Care report sheds a helpful light on the current human and organisational development challenges facing the sector! The adult social care sector is growing, with around 1.55m jobs in and across a sector that contributes £40.4bn per annum to the UK economy. Of those 1.55m jobs, 1.34m are in the in the statutory, local authority and independent sectors. Within that number there were 434,000 (35%) new social care starters in 2015 and 339,000 (27.3%) leavers. Oh, and just to complete the picture, there was a 6.8% vacancy rate (84,000 vacancies) across the sector in the year, up from 4.5% in 2012/13. Staff turnover rates have increased by 4.7% between 2012 and 2016, but not spread evenly across the sector. A sobering collection of numbers I think you’ll agree?

There is evidence that a large proportion of new staff leave soon after joining organisations, and the sector is struggling to retain younger workers. The numbers and the underlying messages they give are hugely worrying and I’m sure will be exercising the sectors leaders and policy makers. Pay is without doubt an issue.

Estimates of the cost of recruiting social care staff vary from £2,000 to £5,000 per person, but a figure of £8,000 per person was given to me a few years ago by my HR Director which took into account the cost of her team’s time, organising and attending recruitment fairs and Job Centre events along with Managers having to longlist, shortlist then sit on interview panels (assuming that people actually turned up).

I’ll leave the mathematicians to calculate the cost of staff turnover to the sector, but just think for the moment about the impact that level of turnover has on the day-to-day management of say an 80 bed care home for people with dementia! Managers and their teams continuously inducting new staff, many whom will have been recruited because they have the right values to do the work, but may have no understanding of dementia, moving and handling, care planning, safeguarding and so on. Think about the impact on the longer serving staff in the home having to support and coach what sounds like a revolving door of people who join and leave soon after, especially when added to the vacancy levels that most Managers have to work around . Is it any wonder that some care homes and adult services struggle to maintain the quality of the service provided? Is it any wonder that despite all efforts, Managers struggle to deliver great services? Oh, and if the Inspector calls as a home is going through perhaps a difficult day, week or period? Well, we know how that ends! Continuity of care is vitally important to service users, residents and their families. Stable staff teams led by a well-trained and supported manager deliver better outcomes and achieve better CQC inspection results.

No, there is no magic wand or immediate answer to these challenges, but I guess the first step is to keep the issues front and centre in the minds of National and Local Government and sector leaders. The challenge for them all is begin the high level workforce planning discussions that are needed to ensure that the sector does not sleepwalk into total meltdown in the coming years. I’m sorry, did I mention that 22% of the adult social care workforce is 55 and over and could retire in the next 10 years, and more than 25% of those in managerial and professional job roles fall into the same over 55 age band? Oops! Done it now!

The Care Quality Commission publish their 2015/16 ‘State of Care’ report on the 13th October. It will be very interesting to see what that tells the sector and how/where it butts up against the Skills for Care report and how the sector responds.

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