Investing in the future of social care: Why graduates need to be considered for the next generation of leaders

by Adam Carter, Managing Director

It’s common knowledge that social care doesn’t tend to recruit from the graduate market, particularly when it comes to managerial positions, but is it time that sector recognised the value in graduates?

Traditionally, people within social care are usually developed internally; progressing their way up the ranks, which means you will often see fantastic carers promoted into more senior roles. But just because they were efficient in previous roles does not necessarily mean that they will make great managers. All too often these individuals lack the skills needed to be a great leader.

There’s a growing realization that the kind of skills graduates can bring could be really useful for the sector. Indeed, we are seeing more graduates, particularly from psychology degrees and related disciplines, entering the sector in care roles that directly link to aspects of their courses.

So what’s changed? Well, with an ageing population and longer life expectancies, the sector is growing. Additionally, social care organisations these days operate increasingly like business, which requires individuals with strong management skills and commercial acumen as well as the ability to understand budgets and the requirements of regulators. Many of the existing managers in the sector come from a purely healthcare background, having worked in the industry for years, if not decades and therefore lack the commercial awareness needed today.

The simple fact of the matter is that healthcare is not how it used to be and managers need to have a different, more innovative attitude to the services being offered. Graduates tend to have the bright ideas and fresh approach necessary for modern day care provision in a sector that can be quite stagnant. What’s more, graduates also have strong IT skills – essential to a role that requires data collection for evidence based practice and CQC compliance.

In fact, education at degree level has now become a perquisite for a number of roles in healthcare because the type of qualities needed to support care delivery, e.g. critical thinking, analysis, research, political astuteness and commercial awareness are those developed throughout university.

Despite this, graduate intake is still in the minority, with very few social care organisations running graduate schemes. Skills for Care, the workforce development body for adult social care in England, is trying to tackle this with its graduate training scheme. Now in its sixth year, the scheme works in partnership will social care organisations to offer 20 graduates a year a fast track into management. Of course, this a great start, but we more companies to follow suit if we are going to avert a real leadership shortage in the near future.

At the same time, more needs to be done to encourage graduates to consider a career in social care – organisations should have a greater year round presence at universities to show that there is an obvious root into the sector for graduates.

It’s imperative that we think long term about the future of social care leadership. We have a vast pool of well-qualified and caring talent at graduate level, ideally suited to a career in care. It suffices to say that not taking advantage of what the graduate market has to offer would be a real mistake for the sector.