A £5.2 million pilot to help those on Universal Credit into training for health and social care careers, that is informing future policy decisions, has been forced to significantly scale back target numbers.
Covid-19 disruption and numbers of staff walking away from the profession due to low levels of pay have hampered progress. But project bosses say social media is now helping drive recruitment as it enters its final four months.
City College Peterborough and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority launched the health and care sector work academy in March 2018 before the pandemic hit, as a Department for Work and Pensions pilot.
It aims to encourage people who were out of work or on low incomes and on Universal Credit to fill gaps in the health and care industry.
Courses have included the level 3 adult care diploma, a level 2 in health and social care, as well as a care certificate, and courses in preparing to work in adult social care, and dementia care.
City College Peterborough was designated the lead provider, with other further education providers also subcontracted.
But the strict regulations around health and care settings during the pandemic halted progress for the subcontractors commissioned pre-Covid, prompting a relaunch and fresh procurement with subcontractors in July this year.
But as contracts only began in the summer, many learners have only come on board in the autumn, a report to the combined authority’s skills committee earlier this month said.
As a result, targets have had to be significantly revised to be more realistic with what providers can achieve.
The five subcontractors had originally been eyed to deliver a total of 1,296 learners, but that has been reduced to 496. Even then, two providers have withdrawn because of struggles to attract learners.
City College Peterborough had a target of 1,220 learners and has hit 1,091 to date with a further 81 in the pipeline.
Ambitions were for 2,100 learners originally, meaning if everyone hits their targets it is still a shortfall of just over 400 learners.
The authority has admitted that there is a “significant risk” of underperformance which could impact on funding.
Spend to the end of July hit £2.7 million from a total £5.2 million pot, but forecast just under £2.4 million of spend for 2022/23.
The revised targets are part of efforts to mitigate the risk of underperformance, with the authority also having identified a further four potential subcontractors, which it is currently in negotiations with to address the shortfall.
Addressing the authority’s skills committee this month, City College Peterborough executive principal Pat Carrington said it was “really starting to take off” pre-pandemic but “what we hadn’t really realised is it would be a lot longer than just the end of the pandemic before the care sector started to accept outsiders back into their world again”.
She added: “That has now been hit with the cost-of-living crisis and the anecdotal feedback we are getting – and obviously when we have the academic evaluation of the project, we will see whether this is correct or not – is that one of our challenges is the pay in the sector. So, people are moving out of the sector as opposed to us attracting people into the sector.”
The pilot provides benefits to learners such as free meals during course time and free childcare to help address some of the potential barriers to take-up.
At the end of the scheme in March, it will be academically assessed over a six-month period.
Fliss Miller, interim associate skills director at the combined authority, said it would look at whether to expand the scheme beyond just those on Universal Credit to boost take-up, and stressed that there had been positive outcomes.
Some who joined the scheme after long periods of economic inactivity had even progressed into management level roles in in the industry, she said.
Miller added: “The attractiveness of the industry is of course a challenge for the country more generally, however, it is worth noting that there have been some examples of life-changing experiences from the academy, with people finding great careers in health and social care and setting themselves up for a better future with the skills they have learned. Changing public perception will be important in bringing more people into the sector.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions said: “The challenges of the pandemic were unprecedented, and we continue to work in partnership with City College Peterborough to promote this pilot.”
The spokesperson added that it remained committed to helping people find new opportunities in health and social care, including through tailored help or more face-to-face time with work coaches.