The time has come for learning within the UK adult social care sector to receive a well-deserved overhaul.
After years of bolt-on amendments, the government has recognised the power of investing in learning to support the revolution of the care system at a time of significant pressure.
The existing mechanisms have become outdated and are no longer able to best support care providers. A national system – enabled by technology and supported by a bespoke infrastructure – will ensure the sector is able to meet the evolving challenges it faces.
Revitalising a fragmented system
The current system faces a number of challenges: it’s fragmented and delivery is pretty localised. This can make return on investment (ROI) hard to measure. The links back to policy can be weak or difficult to discern, and it can be very hard to get traction.
On top of this, learning within the sector can feel like something that interferes with work; it certainly doesn’t sit naturally within the flow of what people are doing.
Part of the issue is that learning currently follows a very traditional format. Progress is being made on this front and there has been increasing recognition of the importance of a formalised, national learning infrastructure within the care sector.
But there is still room for improvement when you contrast the care sector to the NHS, for example, where a nurse would have their CPD mapped out in front of them, and career-long learning is a huge investment.
In its white paper last year, People at the Heart of Care: Adult Social Care Reform, the government recognised that change is needed. And it has earmarked significant investment to revolutionise learning within the care system.
Why learning is such a challenge
Adult social care is facing its toughest time yet and despite the long-term societal trends, we continue to see the sector deliver and grow.
The adult social care workforce has around 1.54 million people working in it. The pandemic has caused changes in the sector in the form of employment, retention, demographics and skills, forcing the workforce to be able to adapt and rise to such challenges. You can find out more in our recent report here, about how a learning solution can help address some of these issues and maximise the full potential of the future workforce.
The care landscape is becoming increasingly complex. There are more people calling on the sector’s services, and their needs are more complex as comorbidities increase.
All this combines to make staff morale a real issue. Despite a growing number of roles available, the sector struggles to attract and retain workers.
A coordinated learning infrastructure will create career paths and opportunities for those in the sector, making social care more attractive as an employment option. It also will bring standardisation of quality and knowledge. And it will help workers feel valued and recognised.
A learning structure fit for the future
Putting in place a nationwide system means creating infrastructure that is designed from the bottom up to be fit for purpose. It’s built for the complex needs of the social care system, rather than having evolved piecemeal and partially by accident. As a result, it’s more effective.
Such a structure will enable workers to access the right tools and skills they need, at the time they need them. And it will ensure they are equipped to deal with the individual needs of each person being cared for, enabling them to offer them quality and tailored support.
This infrastructure likely incorporates a front-office element consisting of a technology stack that offers different ways of providing and accessing content, depending on people’s needs and requirements. It also includes a service desk, a comms team and an engagement team that will support the delivery of learning.
A middle-office element where suppliers and learning delivery providers are managed is also vital. This is where we make sure the learning is designed to align with the evolving skills required at each level and ensure it adapts as requirements change.
A back-office element, meanwhile, looks after important matters like data and privacy, security, and technology management.
And there is a commercial element, which ensures there is a strong ROI and that a national pricing approach is applied.
Combined, they create a purposeful system that can flex to regional needs, and evolve alongside policy changes and a shifting care landscape. They also support a more personalised approach to care, acknowledging that caregivers will need to learn different skills depending on individual cases.
Unlocking technology’s potential within the sector
Updating the existing learning structure also means making better use of the tools technology offers us.
Backed by strong technology, we can deliver learning in the flow of work – and indeed, in the flow of life. People learn what they need, at their own pace. It is no longer about stopping what you are doing to attend an in-person training course.
Technology is also revolutionising care provision itself. It is changing expectations and shifting ways of working. We need to ensure that workers are confident and comfortable with the impact of this digital revolution of their roles.
A technology-led scheme is also easier to evaluate. We can monitor user experiences and measure the impact on people’s roles. We can ensure that learning resonates and is delivered when it’s needed.
And we can use the data we collate to forecast service needs and trends, adapting to the seasonal issues the care system faces.
In contrast to the current jigsaw of learning within the adult social care system, a well thought-out, nationally implemented learning infrastructure has the power to support an evolving and in-demand care system.
It will create meaningful career pathways for workers, recognising the vital role they play. They will be able to learn the skills they need, when they need them, empowering them to do their jobs well. And it will bring greater consistency and efficiency at a time when the sector is facing unprecedented pressure.
Download our report on how a learning solution that puts carers at the heart of care can be achieved.