New research has revealed that a third (31%) of UK jobseekers would now consider working in social care, with the pandemic significantly improving people’s perceptions of working in the sector.
The report from The Work Foundation and Totaljobs – Social care: a guide to attracting and retaining a thriving workforce – shows how this new-found appreciation for carers could help the government and care providers improve the historic skills and labour shortage in the sector.
However, there is a risk that the sector will continue to be characterised by high levels of staff churn. Despite more positive perceptions from the public, one in seven (14%) current social care workers are actively looking for a new role outside the industry, and many of those currently working in social care have seen workplace stress increase during the pandemic.
More candidates interested in entering the sector
Over half (53%) of the general public say their view of social care work has become more positive following the pandemic, with a quarter (26%) noting that Clap for Carers impacted their opinion. Only 16% of people noted that government recruitment campaigns shaped their view of the sector.
Nonetheless, the report shows that this positive opinion is increasing interest in working in the sector, which has long been impacted by a shortfall of workers. Younger candidates are most likely to be planning to pursue careers in care, with one in four (25%) 16–25-year-olds expecting to pursue a career in the sector in the near future. More generally, 17% of all jobseekers confirmed that they are likely to move into the sector in the near future.
Data from Totaljobs shows how the shift in perceptions is influencing people’s career choices, with the number of applications to social care roles increasing by 39% YoY (Jan-Mar 2020 vs Jan-Mar 2021). Alongside this, the number of social care vacancies advertised on Totaljobs was up by 17% across the same period.
It appears the sector is also seeing more applications from people who have previously worked in sectors worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Analysis of data from 15,248 candidates across five major social care organisations shows that 56% of those moving into social care roles had come from a different sector in the last two years.
Nearly two in ten (19%) of those moving into the sector moved from customer service, retail and sales roles, whilst 7% moved from catering, utilising key transferrable skills.
Historic issues within the sector worsened by the pandemic
However, with more people applying to work in the social care sector, significant improvements to the longstanding issues which have been worsened by the pandemic need to be made. This will ensure new entrants to social care don’t leave the sector to pursue other roles as the economic recovery gathers pace.
When asked about their experience of working in the last year, two-fifths of social care workers (41%) reported an increased workload during the pandemic, and almost one third (30%) had to make up hours for colleagues who were self-isolating. The report also highlights the extent to which the pandemic has impacted care workers’ wellbeing.
Nearly half (48%) of respondents to the carers survey stated that their mental health was good or very good over the past two weeks, in comparison with 60% in early 2020.
The pressure the pandemic placed on the social care sector also resulted in 19% of staff not being able to take annual leave to maintain the staff numbers needed over the last year.
Retention of staff remains a challenge
The Work Foundation and Totaljobs findings say their findings show that recognition and wellbeing support are essential in retaining existing and future staff.
For those currently looking to leave the sector, half (51%) flag that higher pay is a key motivation, followed by not feeling valued by their current employer (50%), that they’re looking for a less stressful environment (46%) and lack progression routes in their current role (42%).
Social carers who don’t feel valued by their employer were almost 1.5 times more likely to be planning to leave their role compared to those who did feel a sense of appreciation from their employer.
Beyond these factors, when asked what would encourage them to stay in the care sector, a manageable workload is one key factor. Nearly half (49%) of respondents currently looking to leave said that having enough staff to cover the work needed would motivate them to stay.
Ultimately, those who would consider a career in care are motivated by gaining satisfaction from making a difference (73%), caring for others (72%), and knowing they would feel proud to work in care (63%).
Those working in care confirm that the role delivers on these motivations, with the majority of care workers reporting they are proud to work in the industry (88%) and that their work makes a difference (93%).
In fact, analysis of Totaljobs candidate data suggests that those directly providing care are likely to stay within an organisation for longer than those in non-caring roles, potentially driven by the first-hand experience of the difference their work makes.
The average candidate directly providing care spent approximately 8 years at their organisation, compared to an average tenure of around 6.5 years for those not in care providing roles in the same organisation.
The pandemic has 'shone a light' on the sector
Jon Wilson, CEO of Totaljobs, said: “The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the adult social care industry, leading people to be more open to pursuing a career in the sector.
"However, it’s clear that more positive perceptions of the industry won’t guarantee that people will click that apply button on a job ad. Consciously tackling some of the enduring misconceptions of the industry, and crafting messaging that speaks to the needs of young people in particular, will put social care providers in good stead.
"With this, highlighting the training opportunities and range of qualifications on offer to people pursuing a role in care will help employers to hire staff who see care as a long-term career path.”
“Our research also shows the undeniable pride that social carers have for their work, something that they want to see tangibly reflected by their employers. How a social care provider can make their staff feel valued will be unique to their workforce, whether it’s clearer progression opportunities, stronger relationships between carers and managers, or broader wellbeing support.
"Now is an opportunity to engage with staff and foster a people-first working culture where every social carer can thrive.”
Seize the moment to strengthen
Ben Harrison, Director at The Work Foundation, said: “Adult social care is an increasingly vital part of our society and economy. An increasing number of us will require care as we grow older, meaning the sector should provide a growing source of jobs into the future.
"And yet for too long poor pay, limited options for progression and challenging working conditions have driven significant staff shortages and high levels of churn.
“This new Work Foundation and Totaljobs research highlights the window of opportunity we now have to tackle these issues, as more people than ever – including higher numbers of young people – are looking at social care as a viable career option.
“We must therefore seize this moment to strengthen and support the sector. The Government made a welcome commitment in its 2019 manifesto to deliver long-term reform for social care.
"As it does so in the months to come, this has to involve a sustainable funding programme, alongside a comprehensive workforce strategy that engages directly with providers and workers alike, and puts issues like pay, progression and workforce wellbeing at its heart.”