Developing the digital skills of the social care workforce

Adult social care roles suffer from poor retention rates, but could digital technologies hold the answer to enabling skill development and improved job satisfaction in the sector? This summary explores how domiciliary care agencies have trained staff to use digital technology in order to monitor the vital signs of services users, and presents findings relating to the experience and skills development of care staff.

This reports sits alongside another research summary in a two-part series on technology implementation in domiciliary care, drawing on findings from the Care City project

The adult social care sector in England has been in urgent need of reform for many years. Stark funding pressures have driven instability and a dysfunctional system that is not enabling people to lead the independent and fulfilling lives they want1. Poor recruitment and retention trends are driven in large part by low wages and unclear pathways for promotion and pay raises – with an impact on quality of care.

There is a clear need to improve the attractiveness of care roles by developing a clear career pathway, supported by opportunities for skills development through training and qualifications. Health and social care settings are using digital technologies increasingly, and they hold significant potential to enable skills development by enabling care staff to take on new responsibilities or to undertake tasks more efficiently.

This research summary explores how domiciliary care agencies have trained staff to use digital technology to remotely monitor the vital signs of their service users. Our findings draw on our mixed-methods evaluation of the Care City test bed, which piloted a number of innovations in three distinct care pathways in East London. This report presents findings relating to the experience and skills development of care staff using digital technologies in domiciliary care. It describes the key benefits and challenges of upskilling staff through digital innovations, and offers ideas on how to maximise the potential for digital tools to aid skill development in the domiciliary care workforce. It also makes the case for more investment and joint working to ensure that the use of digital health technologies in social care settings is seen as a joint responsibility and priority between health and social care services.

Key findings

  • Despite the vital work undertaken by the social care workforce, care staff are often undervalued and underpaid, with limited opportunities for career progression. This stands in stark contrast to the opportunities available in the health sector. The unattractive working conditions in social care have fuelled low recruitment and retention, and there is a risk this will drive instability in the sector, with consequences for people who rely on social care. Clear action is needed at both national and local levels to create a more attractive offer for care staff, embedded in a national workforce plan for social care.
  • Providing opportunities for care workers to develop new skills and use new technologies can improve job satisfaction and help staff progress towards their career goals or inspire new career pathways. Digital skills have positive consequences on broader skills development and creating a fertile context for greater health and social care integration.
  • Digital skills development must sit within a wider career pathway for social care, with a clear pay and progression framework that rewards staff for the new responsibilities they acquire. Without recognition or reward of the new skills acquired by care staff, there is a risk that staff will move onto more attractive roles in other sectors, further increasing staff turnover.
  • Harnessing the potential of care staff to provide more joined up care highlights the need for buy-in from stakeholders across health and social care. Introducing digital technologies into the system requires careful planning, adequate supportive structures with clear roles for care staff and management, and a collaborative culture with clinical professionals.

Suggested citation

Oung C, Rolewicz L, Crellin N, Kumpunen S (2021) Developing the digital skills of the social care workforce: Evidence from the Care City test bed. Research report, Nuffield Trust

Appears in

Care City

  • 29/10/2018

Curry N and Oung C (2021) Fractured and forgotten? The social care provider market in England Research report, Nuffield Trust. uk/research/fractured-and-forgotten-the-social-care-provider-marketin- england#key-points