New research into the role and contribution of international workers in the adult social care workforce has highlighted many critical issues for recruitment and retention. Carolyn Barber writes about a recent seminar hosted by the Kings College Social Care Workforce Research Unit which showcased emerging findings from a two year national study commissioned by the Department of Health in England.
Within this broad and diverse service sector, the research made some useful distinctions about different groups of international social care recruits. The GSCC data on the register of social workers identifies over 7,000 (8.8%) as non-UK qualified social workers. Over half of these trained in Australia, South Africa, the US or India.
Within the wider social care workforce, data is much less clear. The research analysed information from the National Minimum Data Set (NMDS ) on just over 5,000 who had their previous jobs abroad and used as a proxy of recently arrived international employees in the sector. Of this group, workers were most likely to be employed in the private care sector; they were more likely to be male, hold higher levels of qualification, and less likely to hold managerial roles, than other workers.
In-depth interviews with employers, human resource managers and other stakeholders showed that the primary driver for social care employers is not surprisingly staff shortages, and the difficulties experienced in recruiting suitable staff from the local community. And the research indicates that employers get a pretty good deal from international recruits. Perceived attributes are ‘hard working’, ‘highly motivated’ and ‘accepting of pay and conditions’, as well as higher levels of skills, experience and qualifications. Interestingly these latter advantages were not particularly identified by employers, although apparent from the dataset and the interviewees themselves. This suggests there’s a more subtle issue at work here – the way in which international care workers are all too often invisible within social care industry discourse.
There is a further distinction made in the research between those international workers recruited from abroad by agencies and employers, and those already living in England looking for work in social care or other jobs through the usual channels.
Nearly 100 international workers were interviewed in depth as part of the research. Motivations to work in social care in England varied inevitably, and suggested patterns according to country of origin. For those coming from EU countries, the desire to improve language skills figured highly. For Filipino care workers the financial motive was significant. Overarching themes across all nationalities were a positive view of the UK, and a sense of altruism or caring for others as strong drivers. However there were many disappointing experiences along the way. Most striking was the sense of shock expressed by many international workers, especially social workers, about the poor image of social care in England, and the lack of status as reflected by the workload and pay levels. There were frustrations about the limited training and qualification opportunities, and experiences of feeling deskilled – for example working as care assistants when they were nurses in their home country. The issue of qualification recognition was raised by many social workers who sometimes said they had a lengthy process to endure to achieve GSCC registration in England.
There were also widespread accounts of bullying, often linked to racism and skin colour. The attitudes and prejudices of service users themselves were highlighted here, with many international workers remaining stoical and accepting in the face of personal abuse. This raises issues for social care staff and managers generally about how to challenge and work with such behaviour so as to support and encourage an increasingly diverse workforce.
The seminar also featured more in depth discussions from other research studies looking at the experiences of specific groups of international workers: rural domiciliary carers in Cumbria; social workers from Zimbabwe; migrant care workers in Sweden; a local authority induction programme designed as part of an international recruitment drive. The detailed observations from these speakers illustrated some of the complexities of the broader themes identified in the Social Care Workforce Research Unit study, and highlighted the potential of further research to inform future developments in workforce planning and good employment practices.
The nature of the research design meant that it was not realistic to test out some of the anecdotal concerns commonly circulating about international workers in social care. Issues around potential exploitation by international recruitment agencies, illegal employment, immigration status, and the likely impact of the changes in border controls on the social care workforce, all help create a climate of fear for some and political controversy. However the Unit’s research outcomes provide a meaningful context within which more measured and constructive investigation can take place in the future.
International Social Care Workers in England: Profile, Motivations, Experiences and Expectations (forthcoming) by Shereen Hussein, Martin Stevens and Jill Manthorpe, Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College, London
Supporting the Recruitment of International Social Workers in the UK: a guide for employers (April 2008), by Keith Brown, Natalie Bates and Steven Keen with contributions from Kathryn Kelly and Douglas Machindaza, Bournemouth University
Social Care Code of Recruitment for International Recruitment – www.sccir.org.uk
The Experiences of International Social Care Workers in the UK: findings from an Online Survey (2009) by Shereen Hussein, Jill Manthorpe and Martin Stevens Access the research
About the author – Carolyn Barber, BSc (Hons), CQSW, is an independent consultant specialising in research, team development and management skills. Carolyn has over 25 years experience in social care as practitioner, trainer, researcher and manager, working across public, voluntary and independent sectors. For more information, go to www.wayfinderassociates.co.uk .