Professional Comment

Fixing the Recruitment Crisis in Social Care

By Lyndsay Chapman, Head of People at Talos360 (

With around 105,000 unfilled vacancies in adult social care, the UK Government has drafted in help from some famous faces to encourage more people to work in the sector. The campaign focuses on the qualities, personal traits and emotional attributes that make a great carer, rather than qualifications and is costing the Government £162.5 million. No one is doubting the authenticity of the celebrities, but can this sort of campaign make a difference to the crisis currently being experienced in the industry?

The pandemic has highlighted the shortage of care workers alongside staff in other keyworker roles, that have been hugely and negatively impacted by Covid. All have all been under immense pressure, covering absent colleagues and managing social distancing rules. Brexit has of course hit the sector hard, as many care professionals from the EU have now left the UK. The Government’s decision to mandate Covid vaccinations for care home staff has also driven people out of the sector.

There is an increasing reliance on volunteers to help support the industry. In January, Derbyshire County Council made an urgent plea to its 30,000 employees, asking them to volunteer in its care homes as existing staff shortages were exacerbated by Covid. Although they are not qualified to give personal care or medications, volunteer care workers are helping plug the gap, supporting professional employed colleagues.

This is not a long-term solution. Social Care needs a sustainable employee pipeline, with new recruits attracted into the sector and effective employee engagement to retain them.

One of the most obvious issues is low pay. The pandemic may have raised the profile of care workers, giving them keyworker status and highlighting the amazing job they do, but recognition doesn’t pay the bills. The average salary for a Care Assistant is £16,000 – £18,000 a year in the UK, around £8.50-£9.50 an hour. The Government’s published National Living Wage from April 2022 is £9.50 an hour, so the average care worker is really just scraping by. With energy bills and the price of filling up at the pump skyrocketing, minimum wage is worth less by the week.

The hours can be long and the work may be physically, mentally and emotionally draining. Many care workers work shifts around the clock and they will also be required to work on weekends and national holidays.

So why do people do it? Because they care and want to make a difference. These are people with empathy and a drive to help others, having a positive impact on their quality of life.

This may be the key to starting to address the labour shortage. Younger workers, sometimes described as Generation Z, appear to have different expectations of their work and careers than some older cohorts. They want to go to work and do something that matters, building careers that they can feel good about. They are motivated by more than simple renumeration , which doesn’t mean they don’t care about salary. They want to be paid fairly, but employers can use other benefits to attract young people.

Shift working and part-time working are already very much the norm in social care. This flexibility may be part of the employee value proposition (EVP) – the set of benefits and working culture, to attract young candidates. Offering a high standard of training with potential for career development is also crucial. There are lots of other aspects to care work that appeal to Generation Z workers, such as having lots of variety in their working day, and the camaraderie of working in a team. Employers can add to their EVP in a myriad ways, including for example, paying for driving lessons and test fees for young workers.

Young people may be part of the solution, but more is needed. Retaining existing staff is perhaps the most important element of sustainably tackling this crisis. One of the strengths of the sector is its commitment to health and wellbeing for its own employees and this is an area where employers can get creative, devising attractive and compelling initiatives that make people feel genuinely cared about and valued. Bonus schemes to encourage further recruitment from friends and family, or a government-backed length of service reward scheme might help.

More people will be attracted into the sector when it is given higher status. The public are already aware of how important care workers are, but the profession itself still seems to be a choice of last resort. Beyond salary, developing more specialisms within social care, with more specific training and development opportunities, can help raise the status of the entire profession. It needs to have the appeal of a long-term career path, one that is increasingly important to our ageing population and where professionals enjoy a range of benefits that make them the envy of other sectors.