How to tackle social care recruitment challenges

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Laura Wolstenholme, Head of Workforce at Persona Care and Support, outlines the importance of training opportunities within the social care sector.

Recruitment and retention challenges within social care have been a persistent issue over the years. Organisations can use different strategies to identify routes into job roles and to develop a skilled workforce to cater to the needs of an aging population. For example, the Skills for Life campaign and professional development initiatives will help address these challenges to recruitment.

Laura Wolstenholme, Head of Workforce at Persona Care and Support, spoke to Health Europa Quarterly about the Skills for Life campaign and highlights the importance of training opportunities within the sector.

Are there any specific roles within social care that you have found it is particularly difficult to recruit for recently?

Recruitment across all roles in the sector has indeed been a challenge over the last few years, particularly coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, we would often hold recruitment events which were a great way to advertise careers and any vacancies in the business. At the start of last year, we were seeing low levels of interest and were lucky if we were able to attract one to two applicants for each role. However, we must say that we have witnessed a significant improvement since then, with one of the key reasons for this being the internal review we have undertaken of our recruitment processes. We had to ask ourselves honest questions like – are we inadvertently putting barriers up for those that would like to apply for roles in the business?

recruitment in the social care sector
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Our recruitment process now is more observation-focused and people-centric. During interviews, for example, we focus on asking questions related to our business values, so we can get a better sense of whether the person’s passion and character align. We want to ultimately instil the message that it is not about experience – we can provide training for the technical part of the job – what matters most is who you are as a person and how your values fit into ours as an organisation.

The success of these changes is already evident to us – since January of this year (2023) to March we have seen over 100 applicants come through for the four or five roles we have advertised.

Stats show that 76% of businesses across the sector plan to increase investment into upskilling to address such issues. Have you managed to plug gaps within your business by upskilling from within?

Our two main challenges have been getting people into the organisation and recruiting for our more senior roles.

One way we are tackling this is by looking at how we communicate with the local community to effectively garner interest in our vacancies.

Additionally, our internal data shows over 50% of our staff are over 51 which means over the next 10-15 years we will see many staff exit the business through retirement, and we know with their exit they take with them very valuable experience and skills. Although we are not immediately recruiting for their roles, we know that this should be on our radar over the next couple of years. We are looking ahead to fill these pre-empted gaps in innovative ways, such as through our Rising Stars programme which focuses on upskilling and nurturing existing talent with strong potential to help them move into senior management roles.

As an organisation we are also very mindful of career progression and the proactive role we should be playing within this, so we are currently working alongside other Bury organisations in the care sector to establish formalised routes to facilitate career entry and progression. This means that as years pass, if any care organisations locally have talent who are interested in a pathway that cannot be provided by their current employer, we have strong enough inter-organisation connections to point them to where they could take that next career step. Simultaneously, it means as a sector we work together as a unit to attract people into careers.

How do you hope the Skills for Life campaign will help to address recruitment and retention challenges in social care?

From experience, I know the importance of different education routes and how they can benefit both employer and employee. I started off 25 years ago as what was called a ‘modern apprentice’, so I really welcome any opportunity to support talent looking to enter the industry, whether that is through apprenticeships, internships, or T Levels. Persona Care & Support is currently working closely with our local education provider to better support individuals who may come into the organisation along these routes.

Last year, in conjunction with our local college, we provided one-week placements for first-year T Level students studying Adult Nursing and are continuing to support T Level students this year. We have also visited the college to do presentations designed to teach students about the careers on offer in the social care sector.

We also currently have a number of existing staff doing apprenticeships to upskill. As part of our recruitment process, we offer staff the opportunity to study for their Level 2 qualification, if they do not already possess one.

© shutterstock/mapo_japan

Likewise, we are working with other pockets of the community to identify routes into the organisation. This includes working with our local adult education sector, those in community who do not have English as their first language, and those with a learning disability. We have seen a lot of success through this work and are currently looking to formalise our offering, to make it more accessible.

There have always been misconceptions about social care that it is just about supporting the physical needs of vulnerable individuals. And although this does play a part in many roles, it is not the be all and end all. Technical education is very useful in helping to demystify the sector by allowing those that do the courses to become familiar with the variety of jobs available. The Skills for Life Campaign helps businesses understand the options available to them and how they will benefit their business.

Can you share any positive examples of professional development initiatives that you have used?

Overall, within the organisation we have several training opportunities on offer. Some are mandatory, but we also encourage staff to work in areas that they have a particular passion or interest in. For instance, we have ‘Champion’ roles – allowing employees who have an interest in a certain area within the profession to own that topic, for example, oral health. This initiative helps to knowledge-share whilst building on people’s strengths and passions.

We also offer apprenticeships to staff which helps them to upskill, getting those core skills and qualifications under their belt.

As part of the tailored offering for the Rising Stars scheme, we want to provide staff with exposure to the right experiences, particularly related to leadership. This will include masterclass sessions for key skills, like managing rotas, supervisions, care plans, and care policies. We will also be offering Level 3 qualifications where relevant.

What would your advice be to employers who might be considering taking on apprentices or T Level students?

Just go for it. Start with searching ‘Skills revolution’ online to get access to the full breadth of opportunities available to you as an employer. You can also approach your local education provider to get the ball rolling and explore how they can support you in the process to ensure both your organisation and the students get the most out of the apprenticeship or T Level placement.

You learn so much from students too when they work with you, for example, their knowledge of tech means they can likely provide support on the digital side of things.

Ultimately, it’s important that we as a sector strive to have that relationship with students since they are the future.

Interested in finding out more about hosting T Level students or apprentices? Find out more here.

Contributor Details

Laura Wolstenholme

Head of Workforce
Persona Care and Support
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