The UK faces unprecedented demands for expert health and social care workers in every area from childcare to support for an aging population beset by problems such as poverty, isolation, immobility and dementia. From cradle to grave, we need skilled workers and managers fast, we need them trained on the job, and we need considerable support from further education colleges and other training providers.

Against a background of scandals in care homes, the government is looking at leadership across the variety of fields – raising quality and raising public trust in organisations that provide health and care. Leadership qualifications already exist in schools and children’s centres. By implication they are now needed more in health and care settings.

Leadership is not just about the person at the top; it is important to inspire leadership within teams and build that up into organisational leadership. While such skills may be transferable, you also need knowledge and understanding of the sector you are working in. Therefore, we must draw leaders from within the sector, nurture them, encourage them, train them – make sure they are qualified.

The issue was emphasised recently in Professor Cathy Nutbrown’s interim review of Early Years qualifications – the need is not only for new entrants but for the current workforce to take further qualifications to improve their skills and career prospects. Evidence, she says, shows that “well qualified, experienced leadership is key to driving up quality of provision, and also that less experienced staff will benefit from good, thorough support and supervision. It is also key in safeguarding children.”

 If they internalise concepts of quality, they don’t need such close supervision as they work more effectively and independently within an agreed standard of values”

I’m passionate about the fact that qualifications help people to reflect on their practice and to create measures for themselves regarding quality. If they internalise concepts of quality, they don’t need such close supervision as they work more effectively and independently within an agreed standard of values. At CACHE, with this approach in mind, we provide children and adult care sectors with a unique portfolio of qualifications ranging from Entry to Level 5 and last year we registered over 150,000 learners.

It is crucial that we send people into the workplace with qualifications that count. For the employer such investment shows you aspire to a high-quality workforce and you set higher expectations than the level 3 qualification. Level 5 shows you take very seriously the quality assurance issue. Qualifications are important as a badge of quality and if I was commissioning care services, that is one of the things I would look for. It is after all about putting customers first.

But, as local authorities and others struggle to find new savings of £1bn from social care budgets, and inspectors report a decline of 650 registered nurseries and childminders in the first quarter of this year alone, where are the people and the resources to be found? Only by raising the status of the profession and improving public trust in what we provide will we attract and retain a workforce committed to the necessary constant self improvement.

There’s been a long-stranding culture where people have always expected that the employer will fund key pieces of development. The world is very different now and we have to think about how we use the resources we have – whether it’s about buying things, articles, consumer goods or about buying “opportunities”.

In these days employers can’t afford to meet all the costs of qualifications. So individuals may need to look more to their own resources and maybe seek loans. People might fear this but it puts them in control of their own development. They don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to do it; they are in a position to invest in their own future. Also the employers depend on having the edge about what they can offer and what they can show, so they will be looking for top quality staff and managers.

A survey by FE Week recently revealed considerable concern over the developing FE loans scheme, with two-thirds of those surveyed calling for it to be delayed or even abandoned.
We have long seen a joint commitment of employers and employees paying a share in therapeutic services. And we have seen that where people invest in their own well being, it gives them a commitment to succeed.

I hope people will really think about ways to invest in their own development. It’s a big challenge: if people are better qualified, they will expect better remuneration. And quite right too; we need jobs very well done, not just well done.

Vicki Lant , chair of the Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education (CACHE)