By Nicolas Croix
The biggest challenge for UK care homes has been a shortage of skilled care workers in senior roles in the past ten years. There are several reasons for this, the most significant being the perceived unattractiveness and low status of care work, relating to low pay levels and job security. In addition, a lack of specialist HR managers can result in long-term vacancies, with the industry already battling a shortage of registered nurses and care home managers.
However, since the outbreak of COVID-19, safeguarding employees’ mental health has overtaken the skills shortage as the biggest challenge for HR leaders in health and social care. Recently, my team surveyed 158 senior professionals from the industry; 54 per cent of the respondents reported employee mental health support as the biggest challenge, followed by staff development (41 per cent), shortage of labour (39 per cent), lack of skilled workers (37 per cent), and increasing paperwork (33 per cent).
The only way to operate any care organisation with minimal HR issues is to employ and reward the best staff: skilled professionals who are passionate about their work, know they’re in the right job, and care both about residents and the business’s goals. To achieve this, organisations need careful recruitment practices, with a watertight hiring and onboarding process to deliver only the best candidates. This requires investment in three core areas: HR, social outreach, and technology.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) estimates that around 11.5 per cent of care homes do not have a registered manager in place. HR roles are just as important as skilled care work, with the best HR people most qualified to negate challenges around recruitment and people management – and care organisations should never stop recruiting. Taking on the right people goes back to some basics of good personnel practice:
It also involves building and maintaining relationships with local job centres and sector-based work academies, offering visits to the home, and even ‘taster shifts’ to potential applicants.
Investment in social outreach helps take your brand to a bigger audience, widening your talent pool and access to potential applicants. Recruiting via the internet is no longer a nice-to-have but critical in opening up worldwide possibilities. Paradoxically, most recruitment to care assistant roles are typically from a care home’s immediate neighbourhood, so cultivating positive coverage in local media is valuable in attracting staff and residents.
Investment in technology ensures that care organisations can maintain a better connection with remote care workers who can feel isolated, reducing job satisfaction. Automation of routine tasks also significantly reduces the monotony of repetitive and time-consuming paperwork for all care workers whilst helping implement new strategies to improve work-life balance and sustain motivation, such as flexible working and other workplace initiatives.
Gateshead-based care home company Helen McArdle Care is family-run and says ‘caring for staff with a personal touch’ enables it to retain staff and rehire workers who had left for alternative employment. The business hosts an annual family fun day, where staff are invited to bring their relatives to work. Helen McArdle Care also empowers its managers hearing of a staff member suffering hardship or other personal problems to offer the appropriate support – though this is a policy all care homes should adopt.
To attract the best staff, care organisations must be able to find them in the first place. Another challenge the industry faces is a lack of sector-based academies providing good enough qualifications, allowing staff to earn better pay, whilst only half of those surveyed (53%) said the Government’s national recruitment campaign helps them attract social care workers.
More needs to be done to attract higher volumes of people into health and social care. Only by improving the quality of training and pay rates and adopting innovative approaches to care home management will the sector become more attractive and start to plug the skills gap against a backdrop of continued disruption due to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The writer is the founder and CEO of Moonworkers