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Social Care Recruitment: Interview with Neil Eastwood

It’s no secret that staff recruitment and retention is one of the care sector’s greatest challenges. Social care recruitment is a complex topic with a number of variables contributing to the crisis. It’s thought that by 2037, there will be an extra 1 million jobs to fill in the sector. We spoke with Neil Eastwood, author of Amazon bestseller “Saving Social Care”, to find out why recruitment is such a challenge for the industry and how care homes can overcome it by finding and retaining great care staff.

How would you describe the perfect care work candidate? 

I think there are many versions of perfect! As far as candidates are concerned, we see a correlation between family care experience and success in paid care work. So, I look for that as a marker. Another important part of the job is reliability, and you can tell that pretty quickly from whether the candidate appears for their interview. Of course, employers and clients need much more from care staff than reliability and the overriding trait would have to be empathy for others. The very best care workers describe themselves as having a “calling” for care and this is the essence of a perfect care worker.

What’s exciting to me is that there are so many people in the communities around every care setting who would make wonderful care workers – if only someone tells them! So, finding perfect candidates is strongly driven by where you look – your sourcing strategy. More about that in a minute.

How do I keep hold of great staff members?

Retention is a complex topic. On the plus side, great staff will love their job and have a strong bond with clients, so that overcomes many of the frustrations of the job – the travel, unsociable hours, pay constraints and so on. Of course, all care staff should be paid well for the vital role they undertake, but there is much more an employer can do to avoid unnecessary staff loss.

My first tip would be to recruit well – favour high quality sources and screen thoroughly, but what is often missing is simple appreciation for the job they do. We know that a personal development plan (not always promotion away from hands-on care), support through a peer mentoring scheme and the use of technology to reduce paperwork and increase quality time with clients are all important too.

Where is the best place to find new talent?

Ah! Fundamentally, the best places are where there is a personal connection with the company. So, Employee Referral Schemes, word of mouth in the community and returning ex-employees are high on the list. Employee referral schemes are a big source of opportunity as they are often poorly administered or overlooked yet can bring in about a third or more of all new starters with some attention. Facebook is performing well for many employers now too.

Should I use a recruitment agency?

As a general rule, not if you can help it – certainly not for frontline staff. Their fees are usually high, and I hear many times of dubious business practices, such as poaching back placed staff after the guarantee period has just expired or never even meeting their candidates. But some operate ethically and genuinely care. It is the cost that is the main issue. Recruitment agencies play a more useful part for senior roles, however.

In your opinion, where is the care industry going wrong with staff retention?

There are some strong headwinds affecting staff retention which are outside the control of employers, such as funding constraints, immigration policy, NHS pay rises and relentlessly rising demand for services, but there is much within the control of care providers to improve.

The sector over-relies on internet job boards and this source performs poorly in delivering staff who stay more than 12 months. The crucial first few weeks of employment require more attention and employers can appear unwelcoming with poor support and mismatched expectations. Employees should be given more of a voice in wider aspects of the operation of the business, and we need to train care staff and supervisors in “soft skills”. Local leadership is also crucial, and the leadership style of managers profoundly affects staff tenure, I have found.

What’s the best way to train staff to use technological developments to their advantage?

I am really encouraged to see a wave of technological innovation finally reaching the care sector. It certainly has been a Cinderella, when compared to the investment in tech enjoyed by the NHS over the years, but this is very definitely changing fast.

From my experience, most care staff are now very savvy with technology. More so than their managers, in many cases. Adoption of new technology is much easier with an intuitive user interface, of course, and technology suppliers need to prioritise this. Some older members of staff may be initially nervous of moving away from paper, but I find peer support to be the best way to overcome this. Often, younger members of staff learn about care from their older colleagues and introducing technology gives them a chance to return the favour.

Are budget pressures entirely to blame for the recruitment crisis in the care industry?

No. Certainly pay is a major factor in attracting more people to consider the role, as is immigration policy and a range of other influences, but we as a sector could do much more.

One huge improvement I mentioned earlier is to diversify our recruitment sources and emphasise employee referral and word of mouth over the “sugar-high” of internet job board volume applications. This can be helped by striving to be an employer of choice because that drives word-of-mouth recommendation locally.

We also need to work on changing the perception of care work as a low status and low skilled occupation. Shifting public opinion will take time, effort and money, but we need to start that journey now and that’s why I welcome the Department of Health and Social Care’s commitment to a National Recruitment Campaign for social care. That must be the starting gun for much more collaborative and sustained effort from all of us.

If you would like to learn more about Neil, his book can be found here and his online Care Recruitment Masterclass is here.

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