Buddying and mentorship programmes are the way out of our recruitment and retention crisis

Dementia Care
October 20, 2021

When it comes to writing about social care, the canvas is rarely blank. Take last week, for example. Skills for Care launched its annual report, entitled, ‘The state of the adult care sector in England 2021’. The study revealed a workforce vacancy rate of 6.8 percent, that according to the Nuffield Trust, “is more than treble the vacancy rate of the wider UK economy”. If you’re still struggling to picture what that looks like, the Nuffield Trust compares the manpower challenges (there are 105,000 care vacancies in England alone) to that of the transport sector, where there is a gross shortage of HGV drivers.[i]

The report also reveals the retention challenges that the care sector faces.  Skills for Care says that “the staff turnover rate of directly employed staff working in the adult care sector was 28.5 percent in 2020/21.

Furthermore, The Nuffield Trust quite rightly points out that other sectors have been given the power by government to hire workers on temporary visas, which has helped to ease some of the recruitment challenges. In addition, the Nuffield Trust says that £500m of funding to improve wellbeing may not be allocated until next spring to the sector. For some care workers, who have worked tirelessly through the entire pandemic, not having access to this crucial funding for the entire winter, may lead to many walking away.

I have painted a gloomy picture, but that is not the way I want to continue. While it is true that the sector faces some monumental funding, recruitment and retention challenges, which the pandemic has exacerbated, at the same time we should never underestimate the resilience, resourcefulness and innovation demonstrated by the frontline managers who form the lifeblood of our sector.

Care workers are our most precious resource

In the absence of funding, if we are to solve the recruitment and retention challenges that blight our sector, we need to hear their ideas, opinions and experiences, many of which have been formed in the crucible of a pandemic, and share them with services up and down the UK.

As a former registered manager with over 15 years’ experience, my role as a consultant for Quality Compliance Systems (QCS), the leading provider of content, guidance and standards for the social care sector, enables me to gather precious insight from frontline staff and come up with workable solutions.

I am not saying I have all or any of the answers, but in creating the QCS recruitment packs, one of my chief observations is that a buddying/mentoring programme could make a profound impact on improving rates of retention.

Getting the most out of buddying and mentoring

Such initiatives are nothing new, but too often Registered Managers, who are extremely stretched, misunderstand how to get the most out of buddying and mentoring programmes. To add true value, frontline managers must instil a culture of continuous improvement in their services. Buddying and mentoring programmes need to be at the heart of the care provider’s value system, and most importantly, they need to be seen as one and the same and not two disparate activities. Too often, buddying partnerships are formed in the first few weeks of a person starting a new role. The mistake that is constantly made, is when that person becomes familiar in their role, more often than not, the partnership is disbanded.

Joint buddying and mentorship programmes, which also provide training opportunities should, however, should be in place from the minute a care worker joins a service to the moment they leave. There are some care providers that have fully grasped the nettle and, while I cannot provide you with any statistics, anecdotally, I can say that many of them benefit from outstanding rates of recruitment and retention. If I could single out one area where many of these providers have exceled, it is the fact that they have been highly successful in bridging the knowledge and training gulf that often prevents care workers from transitioning to fully fledged managers.

Registered Manager Networks can help new managers to develop in confidence

Bridging this divide is not easy, and many senior care workers are expected to pick up the managerial reins with little to no support, which leads to high drop-out rates. Where there is not a structured continuous programme in place, Registered Managers forums can fill the void. The CQC runs one, but the largest and best known group is run by Skills for Care, which QCS subscribers can access for free.

These groups are invaluable because they digitally connect aspiring managers to experienced managers, who are instantly able to demystify many of the challenges that fledgling managers face. Take a failed inspection, or one that didn’t go so well, for example. The weight of experience in Registered Managers’ Networks is matched by their willingness to help. They can take a step back and point to evidence and QCS policies that a new manager may not have considered when preparing for an inspection. This insight, coupled with their positive outlook, can give the person seeking advice the confidence and the knowledge to ask the inspector to look at new evidence. Sometimes inspectors will do so and sometimes they won’t. But the steep learning curves that these groups facilitate is truly remarkable.

A tool for empowerment

But, inspections aside, there is also great merit in forums like these simply empowering trainee managers to flourish in a new role. Buddies and mentors can offer a wealth of support when a person has had a bad day because they have probably experienced something similar earlier in their career. Not only is that comforting, but it also gives new managers the confidence to put the bad experience behind them and move on.

The challenge now is for the care services to replicate this highly effective template. If they can do so, more care workers may choose to stay in their jobs. Recruitment rates could increase too. After all, what better advert is there than a care worker extolling the virtues of the service they work for?

End notes

[i] Sources include ‘The state of the adult care sector in England 2021’ (Skills for Care) and a statement released by Nuffield Trust on 13 October by Nina Hemmings entitled ‘A toxic combination of pressures: Nuffield Trust response to Skills for Care report’.

The article was first published in the The Carer – Issue 73



February 19, 2024
QCS 12 audit series: Understand why each audit is important and learn how to share your audit actions with the team – Resource 12: Health and Safety
Read more
February 5, 2024
QCS 12 audit series: Understand why each audit is important and learn how to share your audit actions with the team – Resource 11: Observation
Read more
January 22, 2024
QCS 12 audit series: Understand why each audit is important and learn how to share your audit actions with the team – Resource 10: Medication
Read more