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Helping to Plug the Social Care Skills Gap

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Helping to Plug the Social Care Skills Gap

​The UK social care sector has faced more than its fair share of challenges in recent times, not least of which is an acute staff shortage. According to combined Skills for Care, NHS Digital and ONS data as reported in The Guardian , the adult social care sector has a higher vacancy rate than many other essential industries, including the NHS.

Industry experts and government figures alike point to the adult social care skills gap as a big driver for these staff shortages. King's College London and the NIHR Policy Research Unit recently conducted a scoping review into the evidence to support these claims, and the findings are illuminating.

Here, we share some key discoveries from the report which may help you nurture and further support the valued social care staff you have in plugging their skills gaps, as well as entice new talent to apply for your open social care jobs.

The Report Overview

The scoping review’s primary task was to review existing literature on current adult social care workforce skills to understand where the gaps lie. This information can then be used to inform policy makers, as well as help other industry stakeholders when it comes to supporting this vital part of the UK workforce.

In conducting the scoping review, the researchers assessed studies based on the Skills for Care core skills template for adult social care (ASC) workers. This includes:

  • English (read, write, speak and understand the language)

  • Numbers (calculate, record numbers, understand measurements, use timetables and plan work)

  • Digital (ability to find and manage digital information, share personal data digitally, use digital technology with clients, and engage in eLearning)

  • Employability (problem-solving, teamwork, professional learning and development, manage own health and wellbeing)

The review also highlights the UK Care Certificate which individuals need to complete by meeting 15 minimum standards. However, it’s not mandatory.

The scoping review shares some interesting Skills for Care data about care certificates. In 2020/2021:

  • a third (33%) of new adult care workers had not started the Care Certificate

  • over half (58%) of those providing direct care didn’t have a relevant Level 2 social care qualification

  • 87% of registered managers had a Level 2 social care qualification.

Drilling down by industry shows more ASC workers in learning disability services and in homecare have completed or started the Care Certificate (71% had [partly] done them), compared to staff working in care homes (55%).

When it comes to employee retention, it’s perhaps not surprising to uncover the rates are better when staff undertake further training. The average turnover rate was 9.2 percentage points lower amongst care workers who have received some form of training (25.4%), compared to those who hadn’t (34.6%). And those providers who have more staff undertaking training are much more likely to get higher Care Quality Commission scores.

Let’s now turn to some of the skill gap areas highlighted within the review.

Basic Skills

One of the most surprising findings from the review is that the ASC sector is not able to quantify literacy and numeracy gaps among its workforce. Considering these are fundamental skills for both safe and effective social care and successful further skills training, the review recommends it’s an area the industry needs to monitor and address.

Another area of concern relates to communication skills gaps across a range of care settings, much due to limited available training. Two examples are a lack of skills to support clients with physical disabilities (such as hearing loss or visual impairment), as well as those who identify as transgender or non-binary.

For the former, the review found a lack of hearing-related training for care home staff directly impacted patient hearing rehabilitation (for instance, not understanding how to help residents maintain their hearing equipment).

The researchers also found a marked absence of observational skills training in the home care setting, specifically in relation to the soft signs of deterioration.

Specific Skills

The scoping review highlights a number of areas where social care workers need further training and support for specific conditions and issues. For the sake of brevity, here are some key selections.

Dementia Care

The report spotlights recent statistics from the Alzheimer’s Society showing just under half (44%) of care staff have any form of dementia training. It’s a worrying statistic when you consider the multifaceted nature of the condition and the extreme prevalence amongst aged care residents.

Researchers said that while a Tier 2 Dementia Training Standards Framework exists, many staff do not engage with it. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason why, but employers can encourage staff by providing flexibility, such as allowing them to train during work hours.

Long-term Conditions

The report quotes the statistic that one in four care home residents have diabetes, while 40% of diabetics aged over 80 are considered ‘frail’. Researchers highlighted a lack of diabetes care training in the ASC sector, so it’s something that needs consideration.

A similar trend appears when it comes to training to support clients with a learning disability and/or autism. But as there is newly-introduced mandatory training in this area, there’s hope on the horizon those skills gaps will be plugged.

Skin Care

Incontinence Associated Dermatitis (IAD) is skin damage caused by long exposure to excreta. The report states it can affect over half of incontinent people living at home and up to 30% of people living in care homes. There’s currently no guidelines for IAD management.

The literature suggests that better preventative measures – including training – could halve the numbers of people suffering IADs. Right now, there’s an ongoing NIHR study to develop and test a manual and training package in care homes and in people’s own homes. It’s a case of ‘wait and see’.

Need for ASC Voice in Training

The report quotes anecdotal evidence from a local authority’s work on identifying skills gaps and mandatory training. It uncovered two key findings – the provided training isn’t always what the service requires and general training isn’t always relevant to services (they need customised options).

The researchers also found it difficult to source evidence about ASC staff and carer input into what’s required to fill their skills gaps. This shows a distinct lack of ‘voice’ from the very people equipped to provide the best insights into training programs.

Thankfully there’s currently work being done in this space with the newly introduced Health and Care Act 2022. This should increase involvement and consultation with these important stakeholders in planning services. We can only hope this extends to training as well.

Technology Skills Gaps

One of the key social care trends for 2023 is the continuation of digitising social care. It brings many benefits for social care professionals, particularly when it comes to getting rid of manual processes.

But in the scoping review, some studies suggest that even though digital technology use by health professionals increased during the pandemic, there was less uptake among care workers specifically. This may be because many appear to lack basic tech skills, whilst also not fully understanding the benefits technology offers social care. Others have worries technology will replace face-to-face care.

The review found another area that needs boosting is digital leadership promotion – things like nurturing skills in change and project management so organisations can not only harness those technology benefits, but appropriately train and support their staff, and dispel fears.

Supporting Your Workers to Fill Their Skills Gaps

That covers many of the social care skills gap areas from the report, but if you would like to read the scoping review in its entirety, you can access it here.

As a Social Care recruitment agency, we have a deep focus in helping our clients support their staff pursue further training to fill their skills gaps. One of our clients recently funded 95% of training for their temp workers to achieve their NVQ Level 3 Residential Childcare training, ensuring they can stay in their role for the foreseeable future.

If you would like to discuss ways you can plug employees’ skills gaps or have roles you need to fill, be it a Care Worker, Care Manager, Care Home Manager or Care Home Director, please feel free to connect with one of our recruitment specialists.