People Business

Annie Gunner Logan, CCPS Director

Last week, I spoke at the launch of a new report into employment conditions in the Scottish voluntary care sector. Jointly produced by CCPS, the HR Voluntary Sector Network and the University of Strathclyde, the report summarises the 2017 findings from the sector’s annual benchmarking exercise, now approaching its tenth year.

This year’s report, like its predecessors, offers a wealth of data on the big HR issues facing our sector. Inevitably, a report like this presents statistics first and foremost, however the researchers added some rich qualitative commentary at the launch that told us the story behind the numbers. Several points stood out for me.

We all understand that in this sector, we’re in a ‘people’ business. The quality and the outcome of what we do is entirely dependent on the interaction between the people we employ, and the people our employees support; the range & level of skills they bring to bear; and their ability to understand, encourage and sometimes challenge the person they’re supporting. People are, in effect, the service we’re offering.

Lots of other businesses might say they’re all about people, but the numbers don’t necessarily stack up in the same way. If we look at the average percentage of turnover accounted for by payroll, for example, then the figure for the hospitality industry (restaurants, hotels) would be around 30 per cent. It’s even lower in retail, at somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. For our benchmarking group, the figure is a whopping 72.9%.

Our people aren’t shelf-stacking or waiting tables; they’re not doing data entry, making sales calls or packing orders in an Amazon warehouse. But it continues to astonish me that we’re often fishing in the same recruitment pond as these employers, and that in terms of pay & conditions, some of them have more to offer.

The high percentage of payroll expenditure in our sector suggests that problems with our people have a direct effect on the health of our organisations – and vice versa – with consequences for the quality of support we can offer. In this context, the volatility of the environment highlighted by the report is worth noting: 59 per cent of organisations said they’d lost contracts in the reporting year, and a further 69 per cent said they’d been awarded new work. That’s a lot of business changing hands, creating major challenges for organisations managing TUPE transfers and further diminishing people’s sense of job security, especially when they know that these contracts might go out for tender again in a couple of years’ time.

Another sobering statistic from the report relates to recruitment problems: fully 87.5 per cent of the benchmarking group said that recruitment of front-line support staff was ‘very’ or ‘quite’ difficult, with a slim majority saying their needs in this area were higher than last year.

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of a statistic put out by the Scottish Government some time ago, to the effect that if we are to meet the needs of all those requiring care& support in the future in the same way as we do today, then by 2032 every single school leaver in Scotland will need to become a support worker in order to keep up with demand.

Even if we could manage to recruit them all, we couldn’t even begin to pay them, and these realities are now starting to drive some pretty radical reconfigurations of the workforce in our sector. Examples include the deconstruction of typical management hierarchies within care organisations and the development of self-organising teams to take their place. It will be interesting to see whether these shifts make recruitment any easier. In theory, they should do, since greater devolution of decision-making and professional autonomy to those at the front line are likely to make care & support a more attractive professional prospect; on the flipside, there may be an intensification of responsibility at support worker level that some people may feel isn’t appropriately reflected in pay.

We’re also seeing the beginnings of the ‘gig economy’ in care & support, whereby self-employed ‘micro-providers’ of highly personalised support are being marketed as a best value option that avoids the overhead costs incurred by larger organisational set-ups. Before commissioners raise three cheers for these new models, we should all take note that at least some of the savings on offer may be achieved by lower pay, little or no support & supervision and the bypassing of more or less the entire regulatory structure that we have invested in so heavily in Scotland.

The report offers lots more food for thought with a wealth of data on staff retention; registration and qualification levels; zero-hours contracts; the impact of the Living Wage initiative; and a host of other HR-related areas.

Many thanks to Alison Christie (CCPS) and Michelle Nairn (CCPS and Includem) for organising this year’s benchmarking exercise; to Ian Cunningham and colleagues at Strathclyde University for conducting the research and drafting the report; and to all those organisations that took part.