Training and skills

Training over the life course

There are four overarching reasons why training is important, especially for experienced staff. First, many employers allocate training with a mindset of the ‘career lifecycle.’ In other words, young people spend a large share of their early career years learning new skills which they then use through the rest of their careers. Such a mindset is mostly outdated given that the skills needed for most jobs change over time.

Care work has especially changed considerably over time. Many care workers are supporting clients with health conditions which require care from people with specialist training. Providing some training to all staff in supporting people with different health conditions can pay dividends in terms of making best use of the experience and abilities of front-line workers.

Care workers are dealing with people who’ve had strokes, people with multiple sclerosis, people with dementia…So, it’s the ability to adapt to different people’s care needs. If you were a homecare worker, in theory, you could visit 10 people during the day with 10 different conditions, all with different particular needs. (UNISON national officer)

Making better use of technology

Technology has the potential to transform how care is delivered in terms of how care is organised; health and social care professionals communicate; and physical tasks are carried out. There has been a lot of worry about technology taking over the role of care workers, but such a view may be overblown. Care work is complex and needs human decision-making and it is demanding more professional skills, not less.

While technology is unlikely to replace care workers, it has the potential to complement their work. Assistive technology is already used to manage physically demanding work like lifting in a way which is safer for both clients and care workers. It can also be used to improve communication between care workers and clients as well as manage workloads. However, to be able make best use of technology, care workers need to be trained in how to use it.  A modest amount of training can lead to better use of equipment and software which can then pay dividends in terms of efficiency.

“Technology can take away the menial parts of the job and leave us to spend more time focusing on the needs of the elderly. This is what I got into care work to do” (Northern Ireland care worker)

Fostering a learning environment

Generally, workers are often reluctant to ask for training, especially if it is to help them with a job that they have been doing for a long time. They may worry that their managers will assume that the request for training is an indicator that they are no longer able to do their job competently. Those who need training the most are often the least likely to ask for it.

Training might be available within an organisation but not suited to what older workers want. There is a lot of evidence that what older workers want the most is training which builds on their existing skills sets and enables them to make best use of their existing knowledge and experience. Organisations which have reciprocal training arrangements in which older learners can share their knowledge with younger colleagues often fair the best in terms of encouraging participation.

Checklist for skills management

The following is a checklist for care sector employers in ensuring that staff are motivated in their work and the skills in your organisation meet the demands of the service:

  1. Skills assessment: Do you have the right skills within the workforce to deliver services within an increasingly high skilled environment?
    1. Do clients need more from their care workers than they have in the past?
    2. Are skills assessments leading to needs which are growing, especially within the specialisms of health care, medicines, gerontology, management and social work?
    3. Do you talk with your care workers about the skills required in their jobs?
    4. Do you talk with other professionals like those in health and social work about the needs of the service?
  2. Skills audit: Do you have the skills which are needed within your workforce?
    1. Have you conducted a skills audit in your organisation to determine what qualifications, knowledge, and experience is now in the workforce?
    2. What skills are now available and where are the gaps?
    3. Can the gaps be filled through upskilling existing staff?
    4. Can you build upon the experiential skills within the workforce?
  3. Skills survey: What training do your care workers feel they need?
    1. Have you spoken with employees about the training they need in order to do their work in a safe and efficient way? Do you carry out appraisals? If so, how often?
    2. Have you developed a training plan for staff so that they can gain skills in a systematic way?
    3. Have you assessed the value in investing in training in terms of improved service delivery, use of technology and more efficient and higher quality care?
  4. Career plans: Do you know what your employees want from their careers?
    1. Do you hold regular discussions with employees about their career plans?
    2. Do you hold regular discussions with both younger and older employees?
    3. Are there opportunities for care workers to apply for promotions within your company?
    4. Are there opportunities to progress within the wider health and social care sector?