Projections from CEDEFOP indicate that by 2035, the number of individuals aged 65 or older will surge by 23%, amplifying the demand for long-term care services. In stark contrast, the projected employment growth in the care sector is a mere 7%. The gap between demand and supply is undeniable, and it's not just about numbers; it's about the skills required to provide high-quality care in a rapidly changing landscape.
Labour Shortages and the Skill Gap
Labour shortages in the care sector are particularly pronounced for highly skilled professionals, such as nurses, physiotherapists, speech therapists, and activity therapists. Recent data reveals concerning trends as online job advertisements for these roles significantly outpace sectoral employment growth, signifying mounting recruitment challenges. While demographics play a central role in these shortages, the care sector's relatively less attractive employment terms and conditions exacerbate the issue.
The Long-Term Care Skillset
The evolving nature of long-term care necessitates a diversified skillset. Care workers must blend technical competencies, including advanced health monitoring technology and personal care provision, with soft skills like communication and decision-making. Moreover, adaptability, teamwork, and language skills are increasingly important. ICT skills are also on the rise, driven by the growing use of technology for client management and communication. The digital transition in care means that care workers must develop digital competencies to harness the potential of technology for high-quality care.
Lieve Dekempeneer, Director at HUBBIE, emphasises the challenges of the long-term care sector and the importance of evolving skills: "One of the main challenges we face for the next decade is certainly finding and retaining staff. The work in our sector has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Long-term care workers need a lot of different skills to support people with disabilities in having a good quality of life, regardless of their support needs or their family and social background. The competences to deal with person-centred care and constant societal change, and the flexibility this requires, are very important in the work we do."
The Role of Social Partners and the Pact for Skills
Recognising the pivotal role of skills in the long-term care sector, a broad coalition of long-term care service providers, social partners, and education and training providers, with the support of the European Commission, has established a Skills Partnership for Long-Term Care. This partnership aims to train at least 60% of long-term care professionals annually in digitalization and person-centred care by 2030. This would ensure that at least 3.8 million long-term care workers receive training each year by 2030.
"I provide care for the elderly in the comfort of their own home. I have an Assistant Nurse degree, but my job requires yearly training and examinations, to ensure that our skills and knowledge are up to date. We get tested on our medical skills, weightlifting ability, and on our knowledge of fire safety protocols, to be able to keep our clients safe. Social partners have made it possible for assistant nurses to work part-time while also studying part-time and receiving a full salary”, says Angelica Moeller, a nurse working in Sweden.
As Europe continues to grapple with the challenge of an aging population, the long-term care sector's future lies in the hands of skilled and dedicated care workers. The efforts of Member States, EU social partners (including the Federation of European Social Employers and the European Federation of Public Service Unions), civil society organisations, and the commitments made under the Pact for Skills are instrumental in bridging the gap between the skills needed and the care services required, ensuring a better quality of life for all.
- Publication date
- 8 January 2024
- Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion