Crisis in Care: Just how big are the talent challenges local authorities and private sector care facing?

The latest statistics from the annual Skills for Care Workforce analysis show that there were around 165,000 vacant posts in the social care sector in 2021 / 22. While a staggering figure on its own, this is a significant increase from the previous year where this number stood at 55,000 and marks the largest number of empty roles recorded since records began in 2012 / 13.

Our own insight further highlights this growing pressure on skills requirements. According to statistics collated by Comensura, demand for those with child protection skills has increased 179% since 2018, while those with experience of working with children have noted a 158% uptick in desire for their skills. More broadly, social work attributes have seen a 155% spike in demand.

The care sector has faced resourcing difficulties for some time, but for public sector employers, the competition from the private sector has only served to exacerbate the issue. With the latter often able to use higher pay as an incentive, the drain on talent pools has been significant.

Long term impact of skills shortages for the community

The impact that these worker shortages are having on the general public is profound, with news reports of carers struggling to access the support they need growing in number. Reports have also indicated that this talent crisis is adding to pressures on the NHS, with beds being taken up by elderly or vulnerable patients with no access to care packages, meaning they can’t be discharged.

In the UK we have an aging population. An aging population that needs assistance. According to a study carried out by Age UK, in October of 2022 2.5m older people said they were finding it difficult to get dressed and/or undressed, 2.2m said cooking themselves a hot meal was too much for them, and 3m were even struggling to get out of bed. These vulnerable people either need care on a day-to-day basis, or assessments in order to get the equipment or support to live comfortably.

Where is the staff shortage coming from?

The reasons behind the shortage of care workers are widespread – more demand and less staff is the underlying issue. This is unlikely to be resolved with a silver bullet solution but pay is certainly an issue. The challenge, of course, is that local authorities have limited spending power as budgets are continually slashed, leaving many unable to compete with the pay on offer in the private care sector.

It’s not just competition from other care employers adding to the drain of resources, though. According to a report from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), local authorities and suppliers of care workers are also facing competition from industries such as retail, where better pay and more reasonable hours can often be provided.

There’s also the issue of agency fee increases and a reliance on off-PSL vendors to fill urgent gaps, which is creating a pay spiral, with some able to command above average fees for the supply of workers.

Despite the challenges facing care worker recruitment, a career in this remit is incredibly rewarding, which is arguably one of the key motivators of those who continue to work in this area. Indeed, a report from the Resolution Foundation indicated that many people are attached to their job, suggesting that quite often workers view it as a ‘vocation’ rather than just a job.

The same study also indicates that the flexibility of the hours meets the requirements that some can’t find elsewhere. For example, close to one-in-five frontline care workers are women with dependent children.

While there may be staff shortages in care, there are clear positives to capitalise on in talent attraction strategies, beyond pay inflation.

Overcoming care skills shortages

A local authority case study

We’ve worked with an upper-tier local authority for a non-metropolitan county in the North West of England. They pride themselves on being great employers in order to attract the best employees, so they can deliver high quality services to people in the region.

Staff shortages in healthcare, social services, logistics and planning have a serious impact on a local authority’s capacity to deliver services and reduces their ability to help central government meet key pledges.

They were looking to take a more collaborative and organised approach to sustainable employment, with a focus on finding local, available talent. They also wanted to help local people without the immediately required skills but who have the potential to develop and find employment within the local authority.  The initiative needed to be cost and time efficient in its approach, but with a long-term outlook to ensure sustainable pricing and good levels of retention.

Instead of a purely contingent workforce-based approach, sourcing both permanent and temporary talent for roles was included. This was to not only ensure that all roles were filled, and labour shortages were reduced, but where permanent staff could be used, they were, in order to cut the costs involved in the recruiting and induction of new team members.

Another completely new initiative for this local authority was the introduction of a Statement of Work Management solution, which is to be used across the board in all projects that are output based – care being one of them.

Inclusive workforce solutions

Identifying and engaging previously untapped pools of talent is another way to overcome the skills shortage which is only likely to grow as the population continues to age. This can include a wide range of underrepresented groups that hadn’t previously considered care as a career option.

Whilst many sectors such as the facilities management sector are looking to recruit more women due to a lack of gender balance, in the care sector the opposite is true. Only 18% of care workers are currently male, and only 17% of social workers are male.

The care sector can use tactics embraced by other sectors to target men as the underrepresented gender, to demonstrate to them that caring is a rewarding career option not closed to them. Likewise for different ages groups, backgrounds, ethnicities, and with disabilities.

Read the full whitepaper on Navigating Skills Shortages Through Inclusive Workforce Solutions

Comensura are here to help

Since 2001 we’ve been helping organisations plan, build and manage their workforces. We save companies money and time, ensuring full compliance and quality at every step. We bring simplicity to the complex process of acquiring contingent and permanent talent, workforce management, and people-based services procurement. All of this is made possible by our proprietary, adaptive tech, as well as data-driven insights and a team of experts dedicated to making a difference.  

If you are struggling with finding the care talent you need, we have strategies, advice, and solutions from our experienced team to help. Simply drop us a message on our contact us page.