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Why skills development is key to social care reform

By Ian Cunningham - Posted on 16 May 2013

Voluntary sector Employee Relations specialist, Strathclyde Business School’s Professor Ian Cunningham, discusses his recent report on personalised care and argues that skills development should be key to the delivery of social care reform…..

People like choice. Whether they’re buying groceries in a supermarket, or choosing a place to live, everyone enjoys the freedom to make decisions.

For more than a decade now, the value of choice has been a driving factor in the increasing personalisation of care. Through self-directed support care service users are increasingly able to choose, and have the financial freedom to decide, who provides their care.

However this freedom is not without its costs, and the organisational changes its delivery requires pose some difficult challenges for voluntary sector employers.

Working with Coalition for Care Providers in Scotland, we recently conducted a study of local authorities, voluntary organisations, care worker unions and service-users, to gauge their reaction to increasing choice in social care.

While our report - which came as the Scottish Government passed the next phase of care personalisation legislation - found widespread support for greater choice and financial freedom for care service users, the findings also raised significant questions about its impact on voluntary sector employment.

Against the backdrop of wider austerity and successive efficiency drives over the past decade, many of the voluntary sector workers we spoke to felt under pressure and particularly vulnerable to further care sector reform to increase care personalisation.

Some worried they may be left behind or forced to accept lower wages, as competition between voluntary organisations increases their incentive to reduce costs, while others felt they didn’t have the right skills to adapt. What’s more, although they wanted to develop new skills to increase their competitiveness, most voluntary care sector workers felt unable to get this from their financially vulnerable employers.

While voluntary sector employers’ reluctance to prioritise training and skills development at a time of financial uncertainty may be, on the face of it, understandable, it shouldn’t be the default position. Like any organisation navigating its way through changes, voluntary organisations need to invest in their staff to ensure their adaptability and resilience.

In reporting and communication with local authorities, measuring service levels and agreeing policy for example, we identified a clear need for more training.

The value of training and skills development cannot be underestimated and in a sector where mistakes can cause injury, or worse, they will always be a priority. However during times of significant change in social care and the voluntary sector, as our report has found, other non-clinical training needs have to be addressed to ensure personalised care is delivered efficiently, effectively and to the benefit of those in the greatest need.

How can we ensure voluntary sector workers are well trained and adequately skilled?Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.

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