Why Equipping Returning Adult Learners With The Skills They Need To Enter The Social Care Sector Is The Best Solution To The Recruitment Crisis

By Jonny Rees, Head of Professional Development at the College Development Network (www.cdn.ac.uk)

The size of the skills gap in the care sector is startling – Skills Development Scotland estimates that 17,100 roles will need to be filled by 2024, while Skills for Care’s latest figures reveal that there are an average of 105,000 job vacancies on any given day in England. Filling that gap means the care sector needs to cast its net far and wide to find recruits.

Attracting the attention and interest of school leavers, and ensuring their parents are informed about the rewarding and potentially life-long career that can be forged in caring is indeed a valuable use of resources. Young people are a recognised and important stream of talent and skills for the sector.

However, it is essential that the care sector taps into the pool of adults who are either considering, or are in the process of, returning to education. They include people who may have left the workforce to start a family, people who have been sick or injured but have now recovered, or simply people who did not get the chance to study at college earlier in their lives and now want to gain the knowledge, skills, and experience they need to start a new career.

To help address the skills gap, Scotland’s further education colleges, with the help of Scotland’s national college skills agency, the College Development Network (CDN) recently developed and launched the “Introduction to a Career in Social Care” course, which can now be studied at 18 of Scotland’s 24 colleges.

MIXING THEORY AND PRACTICE
Colleges work hard to tailor their courses to fit employers’ needs. Today, courses include plenty of case studies, site visits, and extended work experience placements, so that students understand the roles within the care sector, which will help to reduce turnover and increase retention in the long run, helping to address the skills gap.

MOTIVATED BY COMPASSION
Adults returning to education can bring a wealth of skills and experience to roles within the care sector. Often, they’re motivated by their own experiences of care, whether it’s having been cared for themselves or having seen the high-quality support that relatives or friends have received.

Just like young people who enter college care courses straight from school, adults returning to education want to give something back to their communities. The pandemic has shone an even brighter spotlight on why it’s important to have a strong care sector.

LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER
Having a mix of adults and young people in classrooms can change the dynamics of a course in very positive ways too. You can’t teach life experience, and so adults regularly act as mentors to school leavers often in an ad-hoc, informal manner, while young people – without falling into stereotypes here – will often help their older classmates with the digital skills that have become so important in so many roles within care homes and clients’ houses.

Recruiting adults isn’t about simply filling the void in entry-level jobs. Instead, adults will often bring with them experience from supervisory or management roles within their previous careers, helping to fill skills gaps at all levels throughout the care sector.

DEVELOPING LIFE-LONG LEARNING
College lecturers can walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk because they’ve usually worked within the care sector. That means they have the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to help to develop the courses that care providers need to train their staff at all levels throughout their careers, helping businesses to “grow their own” recruits.

Being anchor institutions within their communities means that colleges are ideally placed to help fill the skills gap within the care sector. And adults returning to education are a key part of that mission.

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