Professional Comment

The Employment Landscape and How to Tackle the Big Changes

By Stephenie Malone, Legal Director at Harrison Clark Rickerbys (

As 2023 draws to a close the impact of Brexit and Covid may still be felt in the care sector, but new threats to workforce stability are on the horizon.

Recruitment and retention of skilled care workers continues to create challenges for care sector employers. There are no signs that those recruitment pressures will be alleviated any time soon.

With the Government proposals on immigration controls announced on 4 December 2023 that care workers will (from Spring 2024) remain on the Home Office’s Shortage Occupation List is, on the surface, continued support for the sector, the abolition of overseas care workers’ ability to bring family dependents with them to the UK is predicted to discourage many candidates from moving here. For those undeterred by the changes, it is easy to predict a candidates market against those providers recruiting from overseas.

Overseas recruitment challenges is only one factor employers need to have on their radar. Taken in conjunction with the future workspace landscape of employee desires in their chosen employment, care sector employers must take heed: employees in 2024 and beyond are looking for greater flexibility, adaptability and growth opportunities in their careers.

Care work offers flexibility in hours of work (24/7 services; compressed hours), but often changes to working location and remote working are, for those in the front line, not viable in service delivery.

The contraction of an already reduced pool of candidates is a serious concern for providers seeking skilled and committed staff. With the difficulties of attracting younger generations to join the care sector as a career, providers who imaginatively capture the need to be truly competitive to recruit and retain good staff will be frontrunners in attracting and keeping their skills and loyalty.

Reflection by employers will be key to understand what motivates their current workforce and how to maximise their own connections, often demonstrated by attrition rates in the sector. Many care workers – UK based or overseas – will have friends and family working in similar roles who can be tempted to move to employers with a good reputation, both in terms of pay rates/additional benefits, personal development and training opportunities, and pathways to progression into supervisory and management roles. Referral incentives are sometimes an easy win in that regard.

The importance of incorporating business protection provisions into care workers and managers contracts of employment to deter poaching, and having an awareness of potential restrictions on activities for a limited time period when recruiting has never been more relevant. Whilst taking steps to litigate on breach may be less attractive for care providers given the associated cost in resources and time, a large scale move of a team – which may also lead to service users following – may warrant legal action to enforce post termination restrictions and to demonstrate mass migration of staff to another provider will not go without action.

For those employers with service gaps to fill but currently without sponsor licenses, it is noteworthy that employees can work in secondary employment from their sponsored position, subject to eligibility criteria. Many providers are looking to these employees in need of overtime as a viable option where they have resource gaps. They gain skilled workers without the commitment and cost of recruitment from overseas. They may also consider moving towards sponsorship if the workforce makes it an attractive option.

On the flip side, sponsoring employers should be keeping track of their sponsored workers and their activities in additional employment, both in the context of immigration requirements but also with regard to working time considerations and to risk assess the worker’s skill, care and judgment where working additional hours which may create exposure to errors.

An awareness of the investment in overseas workers is essential, as whilst not as easy as non-overseas staff changing to another provider, it is real threat. Recouping the costs of relocation and upskilling – both in clinical and cultural considerations is largely impossible from a new employer. The same applies for leakage of staff resource to the NHS given lure of broader packages of pay and reward on offer compared to private care providers.