Who cares? The scale and nature of the West Midlands social care workforce
The social care sector is often characterised as a low skilled one; however, given the size of the workforce it employs significant number of people across the skills range. In the West Midlands alone it employs around 12,000 managers, 9,000 professional staff such as registered nurses, occupational therapists, social workers and the like, as well as nearly 5,000 people in administrative roles among nearly 19,000 “other” non-care giving posts. As the demand for adult social services increases with the ageing population it seems reasonable to assume that there will be more of these posts to fill, with the sector continuing to employ people across the whole skills spectrum. Even without the anticipated, dramatic demand for new posts in the coming years to meet the needs of an ageing population, the size of the sector means it would continue to generate the need for thousands of jobs a year as workers retire and move on.
As elsewhere in the country women predominate, with 84% of the workforce being female. The average age of a worker is over 42 years old with more than a fifth being over 55. As Skills for Care point out, nationally “the age profile of the adult social care workforce was skewed towards the older age bands, with eight percent more workers aged 45 and over compared to the economically active population”. Similarly, there is a higher proportion of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers than there is in the population generally. With 39% of the adult social care workforce in the region part time, it would seem that there is a good proportion of jobs offering some flexibility of hours.
Move on up
With adult social care providing jobs across the skills range and the region’s unemployment rate remaining relatively high and its employment rate relatively low, the sector’s inevitable growth suggests increasing scope to connect people to opportunities, something that local areas might want to contemplate as councils seek devolution of employment and skills functions from central government. Indeed, the characteristics of the workforce and changes happening elsewhere in the economy suggest real opportunities for the sector to improve employment rates and create career ladders, helping more people into higher education, reaching more people who are not economically active and providing new opportunities and off-setting jobs lost, for example, through automation.
Training and education
In its report on the economic role of adult social care, Localise West Midlands highlighted the importance of promoting social care as a career choice, recommending a targeted advertising and marketing campaign of the vocational and career benefits of social care, and establishing a network of school care ambassadors in the region to outreach to schools and colleges. It also suggests skills support is needed to develop a more resilient care sector. Part of this would be to map and understand the skills needs while, bearing in mind the organisation’s focus on smaller providers, devoting some of the adult skills budget to be flexibly deployed for the provision of the diverse skills that small care providers need. That is not to say that there is not important work going on in this field. In Wolverhampton for example the “Careers into Care” partnership, led by the Economic inclusion team, provides support and promotes social care careers, actively connecting providers, many of them small and medium sized businesses, with people through a variety of means, including job fairs where employers can showcase the opportunities they have.
The region has some deeply entrenched problems with low skills, which have proven difficult to address, including having the highest proportion of working age people without any qualifications. While the role the sector provides in providing work for the low skilled should not be underestimated, clearly once in work ideally the sector would play a growing role in up-skilling its workforce and providing real opportunities for progression. Indeed, the Industrial Strategy Commission said, “the new industrial strategy should aim to achieve higher productivity and better health outcomes by ensuring more skilled and satisfying jobs in the health and social care sector” and wrote of the need for “an urgent focus on redesigning training and education … to both raise the skills of existing employees and attract new people to the sector”.
The way the public sector procures services might have an important role here, the Commission commented that, “focus is needed to use health and social care procurement to drive innovation and redesign training to raise skills in the sector”. Although not relating it to skills, Localise West Midlands highlighted the potential the Social Value Act might have for social care through its requirement on public sector bodies to “consider economic, social and environmental value when procuring services” so that “this investment will also produce a wider benefit to the community”.
Looking at higher skills, it is perhaps worth noting a 2015 report by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU) found that over 45% of graduates employed in the West Midlands six months after graduation were students who had stayed in their home region to study and then found work. Possibly significantly, they noted that “this group made up the majority of graduates working in health, education and social care in the region”. Nationally, these so called “regional loyals” tended to be “slightly older, were more likely to be women and more likely to have studied part time than other groups” moreover they were also “more likely to be from a background with a lower participation in higher education”. Taken together with figures from the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) showing the West Midlands has Britain’s joint second lowest proportion of graduates in it population and the general characteristics of the adult social care workforce, this might suggest it would be worthwhile to look carefully at how social care could be used to attract more people into higher education.
Step up, think ahead, return to social work
One of the current initiatives to train more social workers is Step Up to Social Work, an intensive 14-month full-time programme. In this programme participants both undertake academic studies and work as trainees in a local authority to gain hands-on experience. At a time when public funding is tight, participants receive a bursary of almost £20,000. While details about the next cohort will not be available until next year, the applications process is underway for the Think Ahead programme. This initiative aims to bring new blood into the sector through supporting career changers and graduates to provide a new route into social care, in particular to work with people with mental health problems. The two year programme is fully funded, with participants receiving a tax-free bursary for the first year. The second year of the programme sees participants employed as qualified social workers while continuing to study to gain a master’s degree.
Seeking to bring those who have moved away from social work back into the fold, the LGA supported by the Government Equalities Office has launched its Return to Social Work programme which will retrain social workers for both adults and children who have left the profession. The West Midlands is one of the first three regions to take part in the scheme which is expected to recruit 120 social workers in total. The scheme provides for 15 months training in preparation to re-register with the Health and Care Professions Council.