When the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the UK earlier this year, it hit the social care sector harder than most, with many carers – in care homes and working in the community – either coming down with the virus or having to self-isolate due to fears that they had contracted the disease. This pressure on human resources also demonstrated, once again, the recruitment gap in the sector – estimated to be more than 100,000 in 2019.
In response, on April 23, the government, in the form of the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock and Care Minister Helen Whately, launched the ‘Care for Others. Make a Difference’ campaign, which aimed to inspire the public – although focusing on those aged 20-29 – to consider a career in social care.
“We want to make sure everyone knows what an important and valued job care workers do, and inspire more people to step forwards to join the care workforce,” Whately said.
“We also want to support care providers who are looking to recruit staff, so we are offering free initial training to applicants considering a job in care. This should help job seekers looking to work in care for the first time and their future employers.
“We want to bring together all those thinking they might work in care with social care providers looking for new recruits, and to make it as simple as possible for the doors to open up for thousands more compassionate and committed people to work in care.”
As part of this, Skills for Care worked with the government to make rapid online induction training accessible. This included key elements of the Care Certificate and was available free of charge.
While it remains to be seen if the campaign is successful – it certainly hoped to ride the wave of positive sentiment towards the sector and the increased profile it had through things like the weekly ‘clap for carers’ that ran for 10 weeks until the end of May – it is another much-needed push to recruit more people to the sector.
It is predicted that an additional 650,000 workers will be needed by 2035 to keep up with the rising numbers of people aged 65 and over.
Demand for social care has increased in recent years as advances in medical science mean people are now living longer and with more complex conditions. It is predicted that an additional 650,000 workers will be needed by 2035 to keep up with the rising numbers of people aged 65 and over. Yet recruitment to the industry has remained a problem for many years. In research published in 2019, recruitment website Totaljobs estimated that there were 110,000 vacancies within the sector at any given time – and this is a problem that is yet to be solved.
Indeed, the research found that 67% of people in Britain said they wouldn’t consider a career in social care, citing concerns over low pay (42%), emotionally challenging work (41%) and perceptions of unappealing work (29%).
But the problem isn’t just about recruitment to the sector, it is also about retention. Totaljobs’ research found that 37% of social carers are looking to leave the industry within the next five years, 57% were planning to exit within the next decade and 20% of carers were already looking for roles outside of the industry.
Of those looking to leave, 51% were considering taking their transferable skills to a career in healthcare, while 43% were looking at retail and 24% hospitality.
For those in the sector, 70% of social carers believed colleagues were leaving the sector due to their working environment, and 80% argued that they are leaving due to pay. The latter suggests a need for greater transparency around career and salary progression, for those inside as well as outside of social care, to increase awareness of the opportunities available.
However, there had been signs that the government was starting to take the recruitment gap seriously prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. The
Department for Health & Social Care (DHSC) had launched a campaign to attract more people into the social care professions on 12 February 2019, after pilots with Gloucester and Tyne & Wear Councils had proved successful.
The campaign, called ‘Every Day is Different’, aimed to show how rewarding a job in social care could be, as well as the opportunities for progression and professional development. The campaign ran across social media, digital and radio over February and March 2019.
From this lead, some local authorities devised campaigns which have met with some success, such as Nottinghamshire County Council(1).
The council used research published by the DHSC in the lead-up to its ‘Every Day is Different’ campaign to inform their plans, according to Veronica Thomson, HR project manager at Nottinghamshire County Council (NCC), writing in a blog on the Skills for Care website. The research highlighted several key areas, including confusion among applicants as to the qualifications required for roles, which was putting many off applying, and the importance of direct contact between the employer and potential employee.
In addition, there was useful advice on how to increase the number of applications, such as effectively marketing vacancies and improving perceptions of working in the sector. It was also found that digital channels were the primary job search avenues and the most effective way of spreading information to potential applicants.
Thomson added that they also used local research, which found that the turnover rate across all sectors within the County of Nottinghamshire was 30%, with 9% of roles in adult social care vacant at any one time, equating to about 2,000 vacant posts. Several social care posts were identified that had proved challenging to recruit to and retain people in.
From this, a communications plan was developed and funding from the senior leadership team was secured to deliver a local recruitment campaign. Several types of posts were targeted with the campaign: social worker, occupational therapist, reablement support worker, community care officer and personal assistant.
The campaign itself focused on the council’s engagement with potential employees. For instance, in conjunction with the communications and digital team, a new user-friendly landing page was created on the website for each of the roles that were being targeted. These pages included videos featuring people who were already in the roles. “We felt hearing someone talk about their job is much more powerful than just reading a job description,” Thomson wrote.
Social media was also a key part of the campaign and the roles available were posted on sites such as Facebook, which directed people towards the updated webpages and job adverts.
This was backed up with face-to-face engagement work. The NCC team added numerous job fairs in the area and brought along staff from a variety of roles, who shared their stories about the job and working for the council.
Thomson adds that NCC also engaged with the Department of Work and Pensions and attended jobcentre recruitment sessions focusing on promoting the department’s unqualified job roles. Thomson reports that these sessions gained “substantial interest” and would continue beyond the end of the recruitment campaign.
Indeed, this was the focus for recruiting personal assistants, as NCC wanted to have face-to-face contact with individuals with the right profile and values to be carers, Thomson added. This was supplemented by social media posts that provided a more wide-reaching, if less targeted, approach.
Attendees at the events were also able to talk through the application process and discuss what would be expected of them in the role. Through this, it was also found that the application form was too complex for some key frontline roles – as the same form was being used for an entry-level post as for senior management roles. “We made the decision to change the recruiting process, starting with an expression of interest form to make it easier,” Thomson wrote.
The digital campaign exceeded the council’s targets for the number of people reached, visits to the website and job adverts viewed. Facebook was a particular success, with 37% of job advert clicks coming via the platform. Facebook was also effective for recruiting less specialised roles.
Overall, the campaign generated a substantial increase in the number of applicants and a significant number of those have since taken up jobs or joined the supply register. There was also an increase in the number of applicants being shortlisted and passing interviews, Thomson reported.
The most successful area of recruitment was to community care and reablement officer roles. Three previous attempts to recruit for these roles had resulted in no applications. But, in this campaign, the council received 50 applications and appointed 21 people. There was also a 50% increase in applicants to the personal assistant role.
Since the campaign, NCC has set up rolling recruitment events and introduced a supply register to add interested people to who can fill vacancies as and when they arise.
Oxfordshire has also had success in recruiting people to care roles thanks to a targeted campaign. With the county’s ageing population growing at twice the national average, it was felt there was an urgent need to recruit more care workers to support older people in their own homes, in nursing and residential homes. or in community hospital settings.
The campaign generated a substantial increase in the number of applications and a significant number of those have since taken up jobs or joined the supply register
The campaign – ‘Make a difference every day’ – featured several real-life care workers working in the county, talking about the rewards of the job and why they would recommend it to others. It was jointly run and funded by Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford Health Foundation Trust, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with the Oxfordshire Association of Care Providers (OACP). The county’s residents also saw advertising on buses and billboards, on local radio and at face-to-face events such as careers fairs.
The campaign ran from mid-November 2017 until the end of March 2018, with the OACP website receiving 84 applications for a variety of care work roles during this period. For comparison, only 66 applications were received in the previous two years, from November 2015 and October 2017.
In addition, about 130,000 people looked at recruitment adverts on Facebook in the six months after the ‘Make a difference every day’ campaign launched(2).
Examples such as NCC and Oxfordshire show what can be done to increase recruitment when time is dedicated to planning a strategy.
Including care workers in the recruitment strategy taps into the fact that, despite the number of people looking to leave the sector, the majority – 68% – would recommend a career in social care, making it clear that they value their work, according to Totaljobs’ research. This passion means many carers would be keen to stay if improvements are on the horizon. Most social carers said they were proud of the work they do (81%), naming the best bits about working in the sector as building relationships with those they care for (60%) and being able to give back to society (58%).
Other areas that social carers outlined the following actions that could enhance their careers in the Totaljobs research were:
- Feeling more valued by their employer (59%)
- An increase in salary (51%)
- Greater support from management (46%)
- Strong leadership (42%)
- Greater career progression (41%)
- More training and development opportunities (40%)
- More flexible working hours (37%)
- Reduced stress (35%)
- Job security and stability (31%)
- Funded qualification (28%).
Alexandra Sydney, director at Totaljobs, said that the company has seen a growing interest in social care roles, with applications up 13% compared to August 2018. “However, our research highlights that there is more to be done to protect a sector in demand.
“Despite the challenges they face, most social carers would still recommend a career in social care. With this, 81% of those who plan to stay in the sector say they’re proud of the work they do. Employers should promote this passion to attract entry-level talent into the sector. Generation Z is known for being driven by careers with purpose, but very few have considered a career in social care.
“By building awareness and consideration among those entering the workforce, employers have the opportunity to tap into a goldmine of talent, future-proof the sector and ensure people get the care they need.”
Healthcare, social care and home care provider Care UK’s director of HR, Leah Queripel, added that Totaljobs’ research-backed up much of what the company has heard from potential recruits in the past. She said that Care UK has invested in its recruitment practices in recent years, with a focus on social care being a career. “In particular, our focus on allowing each colleague to develop new skills and creating an environment where everyone has the opportunity to work their way up a career ladder if they so choose,” she says.
“As a result, we have many examples of senior colleagues including home managers and regional directors who started as carers and, after taking advantage of the leadership training on offer, have moved into well-paid senior positions with us.
While recruitment to the care sector has long been a problem, it seems there is now an impetus to focus on how to recruit more people
“And, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that social care isn’t just about care workers – we also have opportunities for people to work in areas such as maintenance, IT, catering and hospitality. Each with its own rewards, career structure and opportunities for talented people to learn and develop.”
While recruitment to the care sector has long been a problem, it seems there is now an impetus to focus on how to recruit more people, with direction coming from central government in the form of national campaigns, backed up on a local level by councils, CCGs and independent organisations.
It also seems there is a growing understanding among care organisations of the importance of social media and digital media for advertising jobs to their target audience, in conjunction with more traditional recruitment means, such as face-to-face contact at jobs fairs.
With national campaigns also focusing on what being a carer means, it is helping to cut through some of the misconceptions about care work that have grown up over the years.
The post-lockdown environment in the UK may also help to boost recruitment to the sector. With companies in many sectors shedding employees as they seek to balance their books and mitigate the economic effects of the lockdown on their business, unemployment rates seem set to increase.
Some care providers are already taking a proactive approach to recruiting people who have been made newly redundant, such as Cera Care, which is looking to recruit up to 8,000 people, targeting those being made redundant from the airline, retail and hospitality sectors as it is felt they have transferable skills and can be trained and deployed quickly.
Whether all this can fill the 100,000-plus gap in recruitment remains to be seen, but there appears to be best practice emerging that could go some way at least to address that.
- Skills for Care (2019) Recruitment success. Available at: skillsforcare.org.uk/About/Blog/Blog/ Recruitment-success.aspx?_cldee=aW5mb0BjYXJlZG V2ZWxvcG1lbnRlYXN0LmNvLnVr&recipientid=conta ct-31548b49aa86e81180da005056877cb9-dd18c33ae719 418bb5df140a35dddcdc&esid=3618d20e-fcef-e911-80e0-005056877cb9 Last accessed 6 June 2020
- Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (2018) Care workers recruitment campaign success. Available at: https:// oxfordshireccg.nhs.uk/news/care-workers-recruitment-campaign-success/64635. [last accessed July 2020].
*Article originally appeared in Leadership Issues in Social Care. Leadership Issues in Social Care journal presents the best in thought-leadership and opinion, helping to shape future practice and share learning. The journal focuses on the implications of new legislation, emerging technology, case studies of best practice and more.
It is provided free of charge to Directors of Social Care in the UK and a subscription can be purchased here; https://www.pavpub.com/health-and-social-care/leadership-issues-in-social-care