Covid-19 has shown the vulnerabilities of the long-term care sector, highlighting once again the key role of a skilled care workforce for a high quality and ongoing provision of services to people with long-term care needs. As we look at how to build a more resilient care sector, the acute - and expanding - shortage of professional care workers around the globe poses a big risk to a sustainable recovery. On 21 October, a workshop hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), co-facilitated by the European Social Network (ESN), provided insights on possible strategies and policies to address this critical issue.

Digital tools to support frontline workers

Many care workers regret not having more time for their clients due to high caseloads and onerous administrative work. Julianne Parkinson, CEO, Global Centre for Modern Ageing stressed the positive impact of digitalisation on the care profession: “Digital care management tools such as through remote home care, non-intrusive alert systems and digital reporting systems will bring back more time for personal interactions, leading to higher job satisfaction.” Ms Parkinson also mentioned the benefits of the sharing economy such as platform working in the care sector, enabling flexible work arrangements adapted to the needs of both carers and users. With higher movement of care workers around the globe and more immigration-related diversity among users, digital communication tools can also help to bridge language barriers.

Attractive and empowering working conditions

Changes in the work culture can make a huge contribution to ensuring the sector is more attractive to workers. “People should get the schedules they want, to ensure better work-life balance of home carers,” Jisella Dolan, Chief Global Advocacy Officer at the care provider Home Instead, told the workshop. Frontline workers often experience psychologically challenging situations. Therefore, every home care worker should have access to mental health support. Adrian Durtschi, head of UNICARE a global trade union defending interests of care workers, emphasised that the care profession should be widely recognised as essential and that its central role for society should be acknowledged through adequate wages.

Better career paths, skills development and a higher diversity of care jobs

Care workers often lack possibilities for career development leading to people dropping out of the profession. “Employers need to provide access to training and skills development to maintain people in the sector,” Adelina Comas-Herrera, a specialist in long-term care policy research at the London School of Economics, reported. Stecy Yghemonos, Executive Director, Eurocarers highlighted that, currently, the technical skills of informal carers are not recognised by potential employers. Opening professional career paths to people with care experience would help meet the increasing workforce demand.

The future of the profession may also lie in the diversity of care services. Simon Bottery, researcher at the social care policy think tank Kings Fund in the United Kingdom explained: “There will be a broad range of care jobs, including personal assistants, self-employed micro-providers and traditional home care providers. Workers will have new ways into the care sector, clients will be able to choose the individual type of care that best responds to their needs.”

ESN to focus on workforce going forward

Asked about their priorities for the future in a recent ESN survey, many members highlighted the need to invest in the social services workforce. In its 2022-2025 multi-annual programme, ESN will continue to gather evidence on workforce development strategies across Europe building on findings of ESN’s 2017 Workforce Report and recent ESN activities.