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European Observatory of Human Resources: Getting a Job in the social care sector: what trends exist in Europe?

What is the situation for the workforce in the health and care sectors? Are there common trends in Europe when it comes to wages, working conditions and staff training requirements? How have budgetary cuts impacted the sector? Following the establishment of the European Observatory of Human Resources in 2014, EASPD now presents the first results of the research conducted by Prof. Dr. Jane Lethbridge. It maps the training and educational requirements in the disability sector, the workforce situation and future job creation potential of the social service provision.

The social care workforce for persons with disabilities and senior citizens is one of the fastest growing sectors in terms of employment expansion in Europe. However, there are unmistakable signs that austerity measures are hindering this expansion, even though demand for social services will remain high, in light of Europe’s ageing population. Budget reductions are affecting not only the availability and affordability of the services, but also the working conditions and overall quality of services. Whilst results minutely varied from one European country to another, this research shows that altogether, the sector is characterised by high training needs, low pay jobs, low status and part-time hour contracts.


Similar trends in Europe

This research has identified similar trends across Europe that must be addressed to secure a high quality, motivated and trained workforce in order to deliver first-rate services, fully adapted to the needs of persons with disabilities.

Recruitment procedures, staff shortages and lack of training standards:

36% of the study’s respondents reported that no qualifications were necessary to start working in social care at entry-level, as opposed to the 44% that reported a vocational qualification was compulsory. Nevertheless in almost all countries basic care workers must have acquired secondary-level education in order to receive employment. In many European countries, the shortage of social care workers and/or the low standards of recruitment, result in the employment of unqualified staff. The lack of social workers is particularly affecting rural areas.  


Whilst in Western European countries, new systems of training are being introduced (Germany, the Netherlands), in Central and Eastern Europe attempts have been made to improve the level of credentials needed to qualify for employment in the sector (Hungary). There is not the same trend towards improved levels of training though. In England there was an attempt to introduce a national vocational qualification for all care workers, but it was abandoned because of the difficulties in recruiting staff, due to budgetary cuts. In some countries such as Austria, contracts between service providers and regional authorities define the level of qualifications, with this ratio increasingly being determined by the level of funding. The research concludes that there are some measures in place to improve the level of qualifications, but low wages in the sector makes it difficult to recruit in many countries. In Bulgaria for example, social workers can be paid less than 1 € per hour. Moreover, the impact of austerity policies on budgets for social care is resulting in pressure to reduce staff costs, either through reducing the level of qualifications required or through lower wages. Consequently applicants can enter care work without any relevant qualifications or experience, and in some cases organisations are required to train them.


The disability sector is undergoing extensive changes such as the move from a medical model to a social model, more in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Therefore, there is an ever-important need for training in all categories of the social sector’s workforce, as reported by the majority of the study’s respondents (61% of the services providers and 78% of the umbrella organisations).


Workforce mobility:

Despite the existence of several barriers (language skills, transferability of qualifications), there is a gradually increasing trend for social care workers to cross borders to find work. When analysing mobility, it is also important to take into account the economic situation of the sector in each country. The research shows two main trends: Firstly, European countries experiencing “care drain”, where qualified care workers are moving to other countries to find better paid work. This situation damages organisations in the country of origin, as they used their resources to train future migrant workers. Secondly, European countries in need of social care workers where public allowances for care are sometimes used to informally employ a migrant worker without training or employment security.


7 Recommendations for the Sector:
  1. Training at EU level: minimum skills for working with people with disabilities should be validated across Europe, including involving users in training.
  2. Quality control and clear measures to define quality in services: development of a general funding standard and quality framework for services at European level.
  3. Share experiences and innovative practices on recruitment and induction across Europe to improve standards of care services.
  4. Reinforce the consultation process between national governments and service providers to show to decision makers the importance of pay and working conditions in the social care sector.
  5. Identify the successful and unsuccessful policies at the national level.
  6. Establish a “culture of learning” to have a trans-national consensus on the skills needed to work with people with disabilities.
  7. Development of the European Care Certificate and supporting e-learning initiatives.

The disability sector faces several challenges to the future of service provision. The supply of a well-trained, experienced workforce will be essential, and will depend upon two essential aspects: funding opportunities and political will. There is a job creation potential to be explored in the sector.


Read the full research paper

The research paper “Strengthening the workforce for people with disabilities: Initial mapping across Europe” was developed by the EOHR and conducted by Prof. Dr. Jane Lethbridge, from the Public Services International Research Unit, University of Greenwich. 89 EASPD service providers’ organisations from 18 European countries took part to the first on-line survey of the research, 44% of which employ over 250 staff and 56% between less than 100 to over 100,000 workers. Secondly, a semi-structured interview was conducted with 16 of the respondents. Finally a focus group, composed by EASPD board members, was held in Brussels to test out findings and recommendations from the results obtained from the survey and interviews.


Note to editors
  • The European Observatory of Human Resources (EOHR) is a working group made-up of EASPD members and experts from the Interest Group on Workforce Development and Human Resources. Around one third of the EASPD membership is providing job-related services or employment to people with disabilities.
  • Read this Press Release in PDF format

Nieves Tejada Castro, EASPD Communications Officer
Stefana Cankova, EASPD Project & Membership Officer