How can we encourage more men to choose a career in social care? | Social care careers and training

In the last month a number of UK hospitals have been forced to restrict admissions due to a lack of staff, while others have had to close permanently. At the time of writing, the NHS is advertising 15,745 vacant jobs.

In the care sector, staff demand is currently exceeding supply. This gap is likely to get more severe: by 2025, it’s estimated that 1 million more workers [pdf] will be needed to cope with the UK’s ageing population.

According to various healthcare charities and providers, employing more men could help fill these shortages. Nursing, social care and childcare are still dominated by women, however, with 90% of the NHS’s qualified nurses, midwives and health visitors being female.Many men are put off by stereotypes of these traditionally female-led jobs – conventionally, women have undertaken many more caregiving roles than men, both inside and outside work – and this gender-based stigma is hard to shake.

“When I was at school, careers advice sent boys down the route of plumber or electrician,” says Darren Pitcher, a registered nurse and quality development manager at Care UK.

“However, the reality that caused the stereotype has long since changed. I think we need to convey to everyone, including young men and career changers, the incredible opportunities available to nurses. The levels of responsibility and respect have changed.”

Salary acts as the main barrier to introducing new employees to the profession, says Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison. “Care work is one of the most underpaid jobs in this country. The main wage earners in most households are still men – carer jobs simply don’t pay enough.” And for a health service already stretched to breaking point, significant pay rises are unlikely.

However, for men in the sector there are many opportunities, including new apprenticeships, critical care, military and mental-health nursing and research positions. To increase the visibility of men in the industry, the NHS is pushing a recruitment drive aimed at school leavers and work experience students, as well as mentorship programmes delivered by student nurses.

Stephanie Aiken, deputy director at the Royal College of Nursing, agrees. “We need to raise awareness of the wide variety of roles in the profession, and make sure our message is reaching men’s ears.”

Harry Denton* studies adult nursing at Robert Gordon university in Aberdeen. When he’s been out on placement roles, he says that male patients respond especially well to male nurses. “It’s so important to have a male and female work balance,” he says, “in order to provide the best-quality care.”

Andrea Leadsom’s deeply unhelpful comments about men in childcare, however, did little to encourage prospective male applicants to seek work in this field – and this sort of negative stereotyping must be challenged.

Social care and childcare also face similar barriers in terms of gender diversity, and government-set targets would ensure that sufficient funds are allocated to recruitment drives.

Sam Browning* works as a support worker at a residential home for young men with learning difficulties, and was drawn to the industry “in order to help others and make a difference”. He believes that retention is just as important as recruitment. In the nursing industry, turnover is high, with at least 30% or 16,000 nurses, irrespective of gender, leaving their jobs every year.

However, he has had six different care jobs and has experienced discrimination based on his gender in all of them. “Often I’ve found men will trust other women more to do certain tasks. There are lots of ‘typical men’-type comments, ‘men are useless’, ‘men can’t cook’, ‘men can’t clean’. Men are always given jobs like fixing the minibus or changing a lightbulb – the assumption is that women can’t do these jobs, which is ridiculous too.” He believes that society doesn’t set men up to feel engaged in a career in social care. “Subsequently the industry doesn’t feel very friendly,” he says. “And that makes it hard to retain those men who do apply. It’s harder to retain men due to the way they’re treated.”

It is understandable that employees who are wrongly viewed as less competent, based on their gender, are less likely to want to remain in jobs where they feel chronically undervalued.

Male role models in the sector are essential to get more young men and male career-changers into social-care roles. Coventry University, for example, is using bursary funding of £10,000 for three years to finance 10 male students studying a health-related degree. Similarly, Queen’s University Belfast, alongside housing and care provider Anchor, have been running campaigns to encourage more men into care work including targeting all-boys’ schools.

More of these initiatives will help change perceptions of traditionally female jobs. The success of a variety of promotional campaigns targeted at changing the inequalities experienced by women shows that these could make a real difference.

It is vital that government ministers and managers are made aware of the issues surrounding men in social care, childcare and nursing – understanding how these affect employees will determine the level of resources they’re prepared to invest. As with all industries, ensuring a workforce reflects the consumers it caters for is crucial. Dedicated education and careers advice, work experience and mentorship programmes can all help effect the change so desperately needed across our health services.

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