Eat, sleep, recruit, repeat?

When I talk to people outside of the social care system, they are amazed when I tell them that the social care workforce accounts for 5% of the country’s entire workforce, twice the size of the agricultural sector. Thankfully, whilst we may not yet have a Social Care Today to replace Farming Today on Radio 4, the public and our political leaders now recognise the need to address the recruitment crisis in the sector. But have we in the sector really faced up to the challenge?

Social care recruitment is an industry – a big one – and operators big and small are increasingly inventive in their tactics to feed the recruitment beast, deploying a range of approaches by which to attract candidates. But we have got to invest in more strategic change to get ahead of the curve on this critical issue. We need to look at more fundamental changes to who we are recruiting and how we are supporting those we recruit to ensure that they stay longer. My big fear is that, without big change, we will remain stuck on the current hamster wheel of recruitment.

I have written previously about the work the CareTech Foundation has supported to develop a ‘Teach First’-inspired approach to attracting graduate talent to the social care sector, bringing a completely new wave of leaders in to the sector. With amazing support from across the whole sector, providers big and small, and key stakeholders such as the CQC, we are really very hopeful that we will be able to launch the scheme soon. This new Social Care Leaders Scheme, a charitable initiative spanning leadership roles across the whole sector, has the potential to deliver a sea change in the quality of leadership and management in social care. As well as opening up a whole new cadre of talented individuals who currently don’t consider social care careers as being for them, we know that good leaders make a huge difference in improving staff retention.

We have also got to reach out to whole new groups who are significantly under-represented within the sector. This means hiring managers being braver in who they take on and embracing the value of diversity in our workforce. For example, too often recruiters insist on requiring previous experience in new hires. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this approach will, over time, only exacerbate the recruitment crisis by making the talent pool ever smaller!

Young people, especially those from more challenging backgrounds, have borne the economic brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the number of great jobs we can offer, we have a moral duty to give these young people the opportunity to work with us. And doing the right thing by young people in this way also delivers sound business benefits. There are some great schemes, such as the Prince’s Trust’s Health and Social Care programme that we are supporting, to access brilliant young people who could be your next great employees.

I would also urge all organisations to sign up to the new Care Leaver Friendly Employer Charter developed by the Care Leavers Covenant; this is a great new initiative for organisations to offer employment opportunities to young people leaving care. A number of social care providers, including CareTech plc, Anchor Hanover and Fairway Homecare, have already signed up to this brilliant scheme alongside the likes of Amazon, Adecco and Compass Group. If the social care sector can’t support care-experienced young people in this way, you have to ask who can?!

Similarly, the social care sector really does have to up its game in attracting and support staff with disabilities. Championing Social Care has partnered with Purple Tuesday to drive better awareness, understanding, knowledge and best in class practice for disabled people, both as service users and members of staff. As Mike Adams, CEO of Purple, commented “This is the perfect partnership to create a step-change moment for disabled people in social care. The sector is in an ideal place to be pioneers and model best practice for disabled customers and staff.”

The sector has also got to invest in developing clear, consistent and attractive career routes that will enable talented individuals to develop themselves and to manage their progression. This needs the sector itself to come together to invest in these career pathways. Rather than being protective and insular, operators need to work together and recognise that staff can – and should! – be able to move from provider to provider to achieve career progression. Whilst it is always painful to lose good employees to other organisations, everyone benefits from the ability of good people to develop their careers within the sector – rather than leave the sector frustrated!

Finally, the effort put in to recruitment has to be at least matched by effort in improving retention. This means looking after staff properly, investing in them and providing the best possible benefits package. We know that pay in the sector is a critical issue, and I am certainly not going to deny the importance of paying care professionals adequately, but we have to recognise that the wider package we provide is vital. That means things like wellbeing and mental health support, strong and supportive line management, flexibility for those with childcare and other caring responsibilities, financial advice, opportunities to volunteer in local communities, thanking and recognition schemes, supporting charity fundraising efforts, taking advantage of schemes such as the Blue Light Card and the new discount and offer site for key workers. And so many other ways in which to ensure that our employees feel properly developed, supported and valued.

One definition of a crisis is “a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.” The social care recruitment crisis appears to be a chronic rather than an acute one. And this could well be because we in the sector haven’t taken some difficult decisions. Now is the time to fix that. Right Here, Right Now!