In many parts of England employment levels are at record levels and I regularly hear anecdotes from contacts across the South of England that every time a new super-market opens, the social care labour pool shrinks or disappears. There have never been more people in work and unemployment is at the lowest level since the 1970s.
Despite employing 1.5m people in England, social care was once a forgotten industry over the last ten years social care has become news worthy as the link between health and social has become better understood by the media. As we found out in May, some might say it even has the potential to influence the outcome of general elections or at least be a key part of political manifesto for the first time in a generation. A decade ago nobody was taking about zero hour contracts in social care, about providers handing back domiciliary care contracts to councils or care home providers scaling back provision or closing. Now when Bupa sell 130 'marginal' care homes to HCOne it makes national news. When care providers hit the headlines by handing back large blocks of domiciliary care hours to the commissioning councils they work in around the country it is polar opposite the position in 2008 when around 100 providers would regularly fight to get on a 'dom' care framework in a London Borough looking for 10 providers.
Now the media regularly reports the inability of councils to source care, stemming from the inability of care providers to recruit and retain the right staff. All reputable 'dom' providers (that I'm aware of) are experiencing demand for care services higher than they can supply. It is reported that the combination of an ageing population coupled with the associated increase in the number of people with care needs means that by 2025 (in just over 7 years' time) a further 1 million care workers will be needed. Add to this the fact that, at 27%, staff turnover in the social care sector is more than twice the average for other professions in England, and it's easy to see the scale of the problem that care providers face.
Growing the workforce: Top 5 things we have learnt in Essex
ECL (Essex Cares Ltd.) recently successfully mobilised a short term care service delivered in people's own homes that required the recruitment of 110 full time equivalent front line carers throughout the county (either community care assistants or health care assistants). We wanted to attract people from outside the care sector and not just 'rob Peter to pay Paul'. 43% of the new recruits in the ECL service have never worked formally in care before. The service is now fully staffed and although it hasn't been easy, we can share what we've learnt with the sector.
1. Job satisfaction
Don't forget that with the right circumstances front line care work offers more job satisfaction than most sectors could ever dream of. Where staff feel valued by both customers and their employer the roles can be extremely rewarding and satisfying on a personal level. Our adverts focused on this, rather than on re-numeration and terms (even though we do pay above market average rates).
2. Refer a friend
Referrals from existing staff are most effective. We've found that people who join us via our 'refer a friend' scheme are twice as likely to still be working for us after 2 years and get higher ratings in their performance review than people recruited from more traditional routes (on average). Staff who make a successful referral are well rewarded.
3. Career prospect
A career not just a job. In the short term care service we introduced health care assistants to provide a natural step for community care assistants who wanted to progress and develop new skills and a higher level of recognition. This opened up the service to a whole new section of recruits we couldn't previously access.
4. Company ethos
New recruits to ECL have commented that they were attracted to work for a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) as they felt the ethos of the company would reflect their own values. LATCs need to be commercial and competitive in the market, but chasing profits at the cost of quality or workers conditions is less likely to occur. If you are recruiting to an organisation that isn't driven only by profit ensure potential new recruits are aware of this. Whether you are a charity, a not for profit organisation or LATC, this could give you an advantage.
5. Relatives of our customers
Relatives or friends of customers can be an excellent source of recruits. More than 1 in 10 of the population provide unpaid care. On a regular basis we are taking on new staff that came into contact with ECL when one of their relatives had a positive experience with one the services we provide. Often relatives have left their previous careers to care for a parent or sibling. They then seek out more flexible and rewarding roles when they look to re-enter the job market. Their personal experience and values make them ideal for many roles even though they've never cared on a professional basis before.
I've just met 10 new recruits on their first day of their week-long induction to the company. It's by no means a scientific sample but the anecdotal stories were interesting when I asked where people had come from and why they joined ECL. Three had worked mainly in retail, three had worked in restaurants / catering (both front of house and chefs). One used to be a professional cleaner, one was a full time parent now returning to the market looking for flexible work. Two had worked in childcare/nursery services. Only one came from a rival care provider (private equity owned) who loved the work but grew frustrated with the lack of support and communication from management in her previous company and were reluctant to part with their money (her words not mine). The common theme for motivation to join ECL was to make a difference to people and contribute to their communities.
In social care when we design care plans, we focus on what people can do and their strengths. When recruiting for social care we should do the same, very few other sectors can provide the feel good factor experienced when a customer regains their independence and it makes it more than just a job for people with the right values.
About The Author
Joe Coogan is Director of Operations at ECL and has nearly 20 years’ experience working in social care in a variety of roles as a provider, commissioner and leading social work teams.