Is support work a vocation?

For over 13 months we have met and have had dialog with a significant number of social care providers (both adults and children and young people services). This list, although not exhaustive, includes:

  • Children’s Homes
  • Care Homes
  • Domiciliary Care Providers
  • Mental Health Teams
  • Nursing Homes
  • Local Authority Services.

So, what do all these services have in common?  Answer: They all struggle to recruit and retain support workers. Recently, Skills for Care reported that there are around 84,000 job vacancies at any one time and in April reports suggested that over 900 people were leaving  the social care sector everyday. As such, one thing is clear: the recruitment, retention and development of support workers remains one of the most important and growing challenges for the social care sector.

So, why is this the case? 

Most support workers report that their is limited support for them in terms of pay, with most feeling that the work they are required to perform is not commensurate to the wages they receive.  However, for most, people don’t enter this profession for monetary rewards. The biggest issue (or concern) is that most support workers feel like ‘second class’ employees. This disempowering narrative has been further amplified by the view that support work is not seen as a vocation.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘vocation’ as:

1 A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation.

1.1 A person’s employment or main occupation, especially regarded as worthy and requiring dedication.

1.2 A trade or profession.

A (well known) care magazine highlighted recently the growing need for support workers to be well trained, so that they can appropriately safeguard and work with those assessed as in need. Yet, within the same article asserted that support work was ‘low skilled’ and not a vocation. Herein lies the problem. This conflicting rhetoric only serves to disempower the role of support workers, which in turn, decreases the value of the work and ultimately making it an unattractive employment or career option.

So, if we are ever going to address the huge recruitment crisis facing the social care sector, we must first look at how we recruit, retain and view support work. How can we do this? Simple… view the role as a vocation, which requires specialist training and highlight it’s value and role within the social care sector. Because if you invest in your employees, they will invest their time, effort and commitment to providing an excellent service for those in need.