The Future of Adult Learning in Social Care

The pandemic raised the profile of the valuable contribution that the social care workforce made to the lives of many individuals.  However there remains a huge skills challenge that needs to be addressed so that sector can increase and retain its workforce. Geraldine Donworth, Industry Manager for Health Care and Childcare, explores the key issues.

10 November 2021

The Autumn of 2021 has seen the publication of two key annual reports; the Skills for Care “The state of adult social care in England” and the Care Quality Commission’s “State of Care”. Although looking at social care from different perspectives, both reports highlight challenges in the social care system relating to workforce.

The acknowledgement of the valuable contribution that the social care workforce made to the lives of individuals during the Pandemic is common to both but there is also a fundamental recognition that adult social care needs to increase and retain its workforce so that the care and support needs of individuals can be met now, and in the future.

The pandemic highlighted the pressures on the social care workforce and the need for long-term investment and support to recognise and value people working in social care, to invest in their training and offer real career pathways.

–Oonagh Smyth, CEO Skills for Care

In adult social care, the situation is serious and deteriorating. There must be a sharp focus on developing a clearly defined career pathway and training, supported by consistent investment that will enable employers to attract and retain the right people.

–Care Quality Commission State of Care report 2021

Skills for Care workforce Intelligence data confirms that there are currently 1.54 million people working in adult social care in England but there are 1.67 million jobs, with an average of daily. 105,000 vacancies being advertised daily. Although staff retention improved during the pandemic, Skills for Care states that the trend in staff leaving their posts is on the rise and that vacancies are likely to reach pre-pandemic levels. The introduction of compulsory vaccinations for social care staff is also expected to have an adverse effect on the size of the workforce. What’s more, to meet future needs of our ageing population with increasingly complex needs, the social care workforce will need to grow by another 450,000 by 2035.

The social care sector is very diverse with 17,700 organisations involved in delivering services  in a range of different contexts. These include residential care and supported living, however the area of need which is growing most quickly is the provision of care and support services in individuals’ own homes. Staff turnover rates are hovering at around 30%, though 63% of people leaving their jobs actually stay in social care. Skills for Care reports that staff turnover is lower where employers invest in learning and development of their staff tend to have lower staff attrition rates and higher CQC ratings.

Social care staff are very often paid minimum wage or minimum living wage and although the work is hard sometimes, it can be very rewarding. Let’s just get one thing out of the way though, social care is NOT a low skilled occupation.  A high level of knowledge and skills is required to provide excellent care and support to the most vulnerable in our society. Why would this not be the case? In addition, excellent care and support requires social care workers to demonstrate values such as:

  • working in a person centred way
  • caring about what you do
  • being inclusive
  • protecting someone’s dignity
  • showing respect to others
  • supporting independent.

Let’s hope that one of the outcomes of the pandemic is that the value of social care and its workforce get the recognition AND investment it needs.  There are signs that government are willing to start to invest. This is outlined in the Build Back Better Plan for Health and Social Care.

A qualified and skilled workforce that is rewarded and feels valued is essential for high quality care that is sensitive to individual needs. We will therefore make care work a more rewarding vocation, offering a career where people can develop new skills and take on new challenges as they become more experienced. This will include developing a plan to support professional development and the long-term wellbeing of the workforce.

The Care Quality Commission welcomes the investment in social care workforce and acknowledge that there are still challenges in the State of Care Report 2020/21.

“£5.4 billion investment in health and social care announced in September 2021 is welcome – this includes £500 million across three years to support the adult social care workforce. But we are increasingly seeing social care providers struggle to attract and retain staff, and the situation is serious and deteriorating”

This investment means that employers could be supported to attract, retain and offer progression opportunities for their staff. Let’s have a look to see what is already available, in the hope that this can be built on.




Care certificate

Level 3 Lead adult care worker apprenticeship or

Level 4 lead practitioner in adult care apprenticeship or

Level 2 adult care worker apprenticeship or

Level 3 diploma in adult care

Level 4 diploma in adult care

Level 2 diploma in care

Level 3 team leader or supervisor apprenticeship

Level 5 diploma in leadership and management in adult care, or

Achievement of qualification units to recognise CPD

Achievement of qualification units to recognise CPD

Level 5 diploma in leadership and management in adult care

Achievement of digital credentials to recognise Continuing Professional Development

All of the above exist now and can be used to develop the required knowledge and skills, which the workforce needs. These programmes could be used as the basis for a career framework. Employers may need help to navigate the apprenticeships, qualifications and recognitions landscape and that is perhaps where City & Guilds could support.

Finding solutions through adult learning

Despite the challenges, we remain optimistic about the future of social care, as more resources, partnerships, training opportunities and apprenticeships become available to further enrich the industry. 

At City & Guilds, we’re committed to focusing on key drivers for progression and development in the social care industry.

  • We work hard to ensure that the industry is perceived positively in publications and at conferences
  • We partner with schools to develop a culture that recognises social care as a viable career
  • We endeavour to reposition the public’s perception of the industry, to attract those with an affinity for vocational, values-based work
  • We work closely with a number of stakeholders and large employers to ensure that our qualifications remain relevant and fit-for-purpose

Over and above attracting new and young talent, we’re excited about the opportunities available through training funding and apprenticeships, through the Adult Education Budget (currently £1 billion per year). Adults aged 19 years and above, many of whom have experienced job displacement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, may explore careers in new fields, thanks to the budget which sponsors and partially sponsors a selection of 800+ qualifications in the UK.

From a recruitment perspective, there are a number of different levels of social care qualifications that are aligned to the varying roles in the industry, to cater for learners who are confident, as well as those who are gaining confidence in a totally new field of work.

City & Guilds was established over 140 years ago to provide opportunities for development of skills to support personal and economic growth.

We are committed to supporting employers to help develop the social care workforce and to do this effectively, we want to have more dialogue with social care employers.

To find out more and speak to us about how we can support you please visit our dedicated page.