Professional Comment

Plugging The Skills Gap In Health And Social Care: Upskilling, Engagement and Leadership Are Key

Written by Catherine Mitchell, Partner and Stephenie Malone, Legal Director at Harrison Clark Rickerbys (

The struggle of recruiting and retaining good staff has long troubled care sector employers. Encouraging skilled care workers and nurses to join from a competitor, in an industry with squeezed margins is a well-established hurdle for all providers. With many overseas workers and employees choosing to leave the UK in the aftermath of Brexit, and others deciding to step away following the unprecedented pressure of the pandemic, the current labour market is hard to navigate. In a new report commissioned by law firm, Harrison Clark Rickerbys, data and cross-sector analysis sheds light on the struggles that employers are facing and provides practical solutions for what they can do to leverage the skills of their current workforce to retain good employees; ultimately closing the skills gap within their business.

Recruitment and retention is a challenge for the majority of UK employers and the struggle to find and keep staff is not new – The Home Office’s Shortage Occupation list, or SOL, sets out the skilled worker roles that the UK Government deems to be in short supply and Health and Social Care is top of the agenda!

What is a relatively recent development is the acute pressure caused by cost of living concerns and pay demands, compounding the skills shortages already being experienced as a result of Brexit and COVID.

The shortage extends across every shape and size of employer – 68% of SMEs and 86% of large organisations are facing skills shortages – and, unlike previous shortages, does not just relate to the highly skilled: by 2030 it’s predicted that we’ll need 3.1 million intermediate-skill workers. Our research shows that a long-standing mismatch between the skills learned in education and the skills needed in the work-place is partly to blame, but lack of training opportunities in the pandemic is having a knock-on effect.

Recent years have seen a tangible financial strain for care providers wishing to ensure they meet legal requirements for National Minimum Wage and holiday pay following significant, high profile case law developments in these areas. Coupled with pressure arising from local authority care allowances, it is often difficult for employers in the sector to dramatically increase the hourly rates of staff pay to attract more candidates.

Becoming an employer of choice is not something you can achieve overnight, but it’s worth the investment. Businesses which put effort into building their brand values, instil purpose through meaningful work and keep their pay and benefits competitive are the ones who will get the attention of candidates.

Job-seekers know it’s a candidates market and the more socially aware, and active youth market are choosy about working for companies who can evidence the right culture, ethics and social capital. Enabling staff to access defined career paths and learning and development opportunities also builds loyalty and retention. For many older workers, whom government would like to encourage back to the workplace, purpose and flexibility trump pay – they can afford to be picky.

With the challenges experienced by employers post-Brexit, many care sector employers are actively launching targeted recruitment campaigns overseas – The Migration Advisory Committee regularly reviews sectors on the ‘SOL’ with Health and Social Care seeing a large increase in sponsor licence holders and more employers in the sector bringing in workers from outside the UK to plug shortages. For those employers who are planning to sponsor workers from overseas, planning around their licence requirements and timeframes is of key importance.

The many factors affecting staff skill shortages in the care sector are of fundamental concern and cannot be easily resolved. Taking time to reflect upon market conditions to inform the steps needed to become the most desirable employer in your region or specialist service can make a significant difference in attracting and retaining the key talent required to run a care service. It has a bearing on CQC registration and the inspection criteria of being well-led, which requires skilled managers supported by an engaged workforce.

Well-considered working patterns and job descriptions, along with a commitment to training and progression opportunities, help to engage workers and employees in a clear vision for your care provision, and foster a sense of pride in working for your care service and, most importantly, your service users.