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Career Development in Adult Social Care


The social care sector faces challenges attracting workers and retaining them, leading to high staff turnover and vacancy rates, which can lead to problems with the continuity and quality of the care services provided.

There are over 50 different vocational qualifications at different levels in social care. However, it is sometimes difficult for employers across the social care sector to provide the training and development necessary to support people in their work roles. The number of people starting apprenticeships in social care has fallen markedly in recent years.

More generally, those who need care are growing in number and their care needs are often more complex. This means that social care workers need to develop their skills, and this can be supported by clear routes for their career development.

The government white paper Putting People at the Heart of Care (PPHC) (2021) proposes a knowledge and skills framework on which to build a ‘universal’ career structure for the social care workforce.

Aims and objectives

This project aims to explore the current state of career development and progression in the social care workforce.

  • We aim to look at the steps being taken at the integrated care system level in order to support social care employers in developing career opportunities for their staff.
  • We will consider the extent to which social care providers and national strategic leaders are addressing these career goals, both in terms of developing individuals within established roles and supporting them to progress through new career pathways.
  • We will look at the challenges faced by social care providers in developing career opportunities, how these challenges are being addressed and the career aspirations of social care workers from diverse backgrounds.
  • We will look at whether and how career opportunities in social care impacts recruitment, retention and quality of care.


  • We will use Roundtable discussions with social care providers to explore whether and how they aim to develop the careers of their staff.
  • We will carry out a series of expert interviews to map current national, regional and system initiatives to develop career development policies and practices.
  • We will hold a national online survey of social care workers. It will ask them about their career goals and aspirations and their current experiences of career development. We will also ask them about any challenges they face in achieving those goals.
  • We will look at and review available documents that focus on the role of Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) and how they support and develop career opportunities for social care employees. This review will form the basis of four ICS case studies that will explore career development amongst care providers in different care settings and regional areas.


February 2024 – February 2026


NIHR Policy Research Programme: NIHR206121(02)

Policy relevance

Development and career opportunities for employees is an important way to address the challenges of recruiting and retaining staff. It also enables both employers and employees to build on existing knowledge and skills to meet the growing scale and complexity of care needs.

This project has been designed to address policy makers at different levels of the social care system. It is directly linked to national developments through the PPHC white paper and its attempts to develop a sector-wide framework for knowledge and skills.

By partly rooting the study in ICS case studies, we can address policy developments at this level. This ICS focus will also allow us to engage with policy makers and practitioners aiming to design and implement training and development opportunities for their staff.

The success and take-up of these career opportunities may rest on whether they are in line with and reflect the aspirations of the workforce itself.


The main output from this study will be a report of findings. All participants will receive a copy of the summary and recommendations. The full report will be published online on the Unit’s website. We will also prepare further outputs, working with local partners (Applied Research Collaboration South London, and Making Research Count) and national stakeholders, particularly Skills for Care, and social care provider networks. We will present findings at academic conferences and publish at least one article in a peer reviewed journal.

Project status: Ongoing