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  • Writer's pictureKen MacNeill

Sustainability as a word has been rather hijacked by green issues. While these issues are crucial, they are only part of sustainability. A rather good White Paper issued by Zurich Municipal focuses on two aspects – A sustainable Workforce and Sustainable Communities. We highly recommend reading The White Paper, which can be accessed via the following link…

Having a sustainable workforce is a major current challenge for many private and public sector organisations covering a wide range of roles. The causes of this staffing shortage have been well rehearsed, with Brexit and the Covid fallout featuring prominently. If the workforce had been sustainable, it could be argued that these issues would have been more easily resolved.

Many of the organisations we work with recognise they do not have effective workforce planning but know with absolute certainty this is key to future-proofing themselves. They have not identified their future workforce requirements and how to recruit, nurture and retain people to fulfil these requirements. This is not an issue limited to the public sector or the wider health and social care economy. It is evident that there is an issue with the availability of tradespeople, for instance. We have not been effectively developing a workforce that meets the requirements of our community.

Key Elements

The Zurich Municipal paper identifies Recruitment and Retention, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Health and Well Being and Engagement and Communication as the key elements of workforce sustainability. The “wrapper” for that is the Workforce Plan – identifying the workforce required and taking the actions necessary to acquire and keep it.

In Practice

Our view is that there must be a structured, long-term approach to this issue. And we believe that it should be supported by national policies but driven locally. Our recent work with a London Borough on the development of their approach to their Social Care workforce was an encouraging example of thinking longer term with sustainability in mind. The Council recognised that there were problems with the staffing structure of social care. This meant that there were very real threats to the ability of the Council and the wider social care sector to provide the necessary support to the most vulnerable in the population.

The longer-term solution was seen in the form of a Social Care Academy. Starting with a Social Workers apprenticeship scheme, the aims were to:

  • Promote social care as a career to the Borough’s residents

  • Offer career pathways, for people joining the Council and gaining experience before undertaking an apprenticeship degree course.

  • Extending the scheme from Social Workers to the broader social care workforce.

  • Moving increasingly to a local recruited and resident workforce.

The benefits of this approach are various:

  • A social care workforce that better reflects the local population

  • Improving staff retention through employees who are local and will want to stay and work in their communities

  • Career opportunities for local people that might not have otherwise been available

  • Retaining employment and economic activity in the Borough

If you want an exposition of workforce sustainability, the above list should do the trick.

Extending the Approach

This is an approach that can be extended to other parts of the workforce, e.g., Environmental Health Officers, Highways Engineers, and Joiners. The social care aspect is also more about the local sector than just the Council’s own workforce. Does it lead to a view of a direct role for local authorities in leading the strategic development of the overall workforce in the area? That could cover the wider public sector in the area including the NHS. It could be an extended role for the already valuable careers service.


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