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A poor prognosis for skills in Health and Social Care?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: LMI, Research, Research and surveys, Skills and training

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills' new Sector Labour Market Intelligence report reviews the current and future challenges in Health and Social Care.  This is the largest sector in the UK, generating over £30 billion towards the UK’s GDP and supporting the health and productivity of employees in the rest of the economy, meaning that it will be crucial to resolve some prevalent skills issues within the sector.

Some of the key factors impacting the sector which are reviewed in the report are an increasing demand for services; the move to new approaches including enabling people to look after their own health; and the use of new IT based capabilities including computer assisted surgery, assistive technologies and medical information systems, all generating new service opportunities.

However a potentially even greater challenge will be to recruit enough staff.  The UK population is growing and ageing, placing greater demand on health and social care services.  The report suggests that over 2.1 million new employees need to be recruited by 2022 - a number which is equivalent to over half of today’s workforce in the sector.  Recruitment also needs to be more focused on ensuring that all staff have the values required in health and social care work, and that this activity contributes to the growing demand for new skills and competencies.

Better retention of staff could make the recruitment challenge a lot easier – but again the problem is far from straightforward. Workforce demographics for health and social care show a higher than average proportion of workers aged 50 to 64, and of the 2.1 million new workers needed in the sector, more than two thirds (67%) are accounted for by the need to replace those leaving the workforce. Combined, these two points further stress the importance of building a more robust talent pipeline within the sector. Those leaving at the top end take with them years of experience and specialised knowledge, expertise which may not easily be replaced by like-for-like recruitment, so the need to train and develop younger workers becomes increasingly apparent.

However more recruitment and improved retention will not be enough.  New employees will need to be provided with relevant skills and the competencies of all existing employees will need to be developed.  There is firstly a need for a greater breadth of skill, balancing softer capabilities such as patient care, new languages, communication, influencing and team working skills with technical or clinical skills and knowledge.  But as well as the greater breadth, many specialist roles will require greater depth of skill, supporting innovation in technology and particular areas of medicine.

New, higher level national occupational standards could help to support these changing requirements for skills.  However we will also need to improve progression routes and open up both sectors so that those entering can develop skills and move up.  Without this additional activity the new staff will not provide the skills needed by the economy and we will also not be able to retain them within the workforce.  This means that there is a need for better workforce planning and more proactive development as well, providing a talent pipeline to cover both growth and replacement needs.

It is clear that action needs to be taken now - we are not going to be able to produce enough people and skills out of thin air when the gap in demand becomes too acute.  We need to start building now - recruiting, developing and retaining the right people and building the skills infrastructure to ensure these people provide the additional capabilities which are going to be required.


The UK Commission for Employments and Skills recently launched the latest in its series of Futures Programme competitions, seeking to improve pay and progression for women working in social care professions, among others. For more on the competition, and to apply to enter, click here.

Jon Ingham is Executive Consultant at Strategic Dynamics and also blogs about HR issues and approaches at

This post gives the views of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the position of UKCES or Commissioners.



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