Healthcare update: Is the tide beginning to turn on social care recruitment?

Recruitment and retention of staff has long been the biggest challenge for operators in the social care sector. Indeed, it has been a topic of conversation with our clients since the Hazlewoods healthcare specialism was established over 25 years ago. However, in recent months, conversations with our clients around staffing have become increasingly more positive, with many operators now reporting no vacancies and/or no agency usage in their businesses.

According to the annual reporting by Skills for Care, the number of vacancies in the adult social care sector hit a peak of 165,000 in the year to March 2022, up a staggering 52% compared to the previous year. Of this, 139,000 related to the independent sector (up from 91,000 in 2020/21). However, the most recent report for 2022/23 shows that the overall number of vacancies in the year had fallen to 152,000 (of which 127,000 related to the independent sector).

Skills for Care also provide data on a monthly  basis which shows that, despite the vacancy rate continuing to increase up until October 2022 when it hit a peak of 11.2%, it has been steadily falling over the last 8 months, down to 8.9% in June 2023. While the data is not perfect (it is unweighted, and only includes information submitted by operators in the Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set who have changed their vacancy information since March 2023) it is a good indicator of current trends which seem to align with what we are hearing from our clients.

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a mass exodus of people leaving the sector – finding better pay and working conditions in the retail and hospitality industries. However, it will also have skewed the vacancy data for the 2020/21 year due to operators being unable to focus on expansion as a result of the crisis in the sector. This would have forced some recruitment to be put on hold during that period, but then starting to flow through in the 2021/22 period as the market began to return to some form of normality.

Having considered the reliability of the data set, there are a number of factors that could be driving the improvement in recruitment and retention in recent months; including:

  • The high take up of sponsorship licences has increased the availability of staff from overseas. Following Britain’s exit from the EU, many operators have obtained these licences and now sufficient time has passed for those operators to have seen the impact of this on their staff numbers. Skills for Care have indicated that around 70,000 people have been recruited from abroad into direct care-providing roles after adult social care was added to the Shortage Occupation List in February 2022.
  • Over 55’s made up 28% of the adult social care workforce in 2021/22, which has led to speculation around the number of people leaving the sector due to retirement in the coming years. The onset of the cost of living crisis may have encouraged the more mature staff to reconsider their retirement plans.
  • Skills for Care also highlighted that employers with favourable workforce metrics (such as high levels of learning and development), on average, had lower staff turnover. It seems that operators are recognising this need in their staff and reacting accordingly by investing more in training their staff.  It is also worth noting the impact good quality managers can have on retention rates across the sector.

There will still be many operators who are not seeing the same successes in staff recruitment and retention, however it is has been a welcome change to hear of these positive occurrences for many of our clients, particularly following the challenges faced by the social care sector in recent years. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with any other operators who would like to share their stories with us.

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