With social care and support needs expected to keep growing, recruiting a diverse, trained and caring workforce is proving difficult for many services and countries in the European Union (EU). Some of the challenges identified at our seminar on 15-16 November include:

  • A lack of diversity. This applies both to the workforce itself, mainly composed of middle-aged, female workers, and to training, which needs to adapt to more and more complex needs
  • Labour shortages and unfilled vacancies
  • A general lack of mutual recognition of qualifications across the EU
  • Language and cultural barriers
  • A general lack of appeal of the profession, whose jobs remain often low paid and emotionally demanding.

Tapping into the potential of EU and third-country workers could help solve the recruitment conundrum.

What we know about EU workers’ mobility

The freedom of movement of all EU citizens, regardless of their activity status, is enshrined in EU laws and the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). Doede Ackers, Deputy head of the workers’ mobility unit at the European Commission, said that 8.5 million active EU citizens currently live in another Member State, representing 3.7% of the total labour force. However, “data about those working in the social care and services sector is very scarce”, he said. This is partly due to a lack of harmonisation of qualifications and a challenging skills’ mobility across the EU. Indeed, national frameworks vary considerably, as shown by our recent research, carried out together with Dr. Shereen Hussein.

In comparison, the health sector, as a part of the so-called regulated professions, is characterised by a more favourable situation, with minimum training requirements harmonised at EU level, allowing certified practitioners to work anywhere in the EU.

Transforming working practices in social care

Language and cultural barriers were mentioned as the main obstacles to hiring professionals from abroad. Participants agreed on the importance of teaching the local “culture(s) of care”. In Scotland, the ‘Common Core of skills, knowledge and values’ aims to ensure that all practitioners provide support along the same lines. In Catalonia, a points system was designed to assess the suitability of professionals, based on both competences and attitudes, such as the ability to work in a team and the attention given to users’ preferences and wishes.

A strong focus was put throughout the seminar on the importance for social carers and social workers to complete the official registration process, which gives them better recognition, rights and a sense of belonging, too. In France, a strong ethics code and registration process have been key to ensure good working conditions, strong professional identity and recognition, said Christian Moutier, senior social care expert.

Creating opportunities to recruit care professionals

Comprehensive induction programmes going beyond language training, such as the ones provided by some UK employers to their new recruits, can help a foreign workforce adapt to local cultures and needs.

At EU level, EURES can provide critical support to both employers and job seekers and facilitate skills and vacancy matching. Launched in 1993, the EURES network of European employment services aims to improve matching between workers and existing vacancies, while offering information and assistance on mobility, rules, living and working conditions.

Investing in the future of the social service workforce is crucial to meet future challenges. Peter Kulifaj, President of the National Chamber of Social Workers and Social Work Assistants in Slovakia, called for a renewed “vision” for social work, capable of attracting young people, including young men, into the profession. “Let’s be creative again”, he concluded.