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Alleviating the care staffing crisis post-Covid

Steve Sawyer, managing director at the Access Group’s health and social care division, explains what care providers can do to keep hold of their most important asset, their staff, at this challenging time.

The health and social care industry has been directly and dramatically affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Serving the needs of those most at risk, while adhering to guidance such as PPE requirements, periods of isolation and managing infection control, placed further challenges onto an already stretched sector.

This caused concerns around wellbeing, safety and staffing– some 28 per cent of survey respondents said that pandemic policies had damaged their workforce capacity.

Recruitment and retention has been a common problem for care providers for a long time. Even before the pandemic, research from Totaljobs found that 37% of social care workers were looking to leave the profession in the next five years. A 2020 study from Skills for Care estimated turnover rate of staff was 30.4%, proving the predictions true.

Calls to make Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for care workers have already attracted criticism. While it would clearly protect some of our most vulnerable people, the concern is that those opposed to the jab could simply “vote with their feet”, and leave the sector altogether. Worryingly, recent figures show almost half of English care homes for older people had more than a fifth of staff yet to take up the vaccine.

Skills For Care’s 2021 ‘The size and structure of the adult social care sector and workforce in England’ report highlights further complexities. Recruitment in domiciliary care – or CQC regulated non-residential care services – actually increased by 40,000 jobs, or 7 per cent between 2019/20 and 2020/2, which is encouraging.

But what does this mean for care home providers, who still look after around 400,000 older people in the UK? Evidence in the report shows that the number of jobs in this part of the sector had started to decrease between March and July this year, though last year they remained largely unchanged.

Also worrying is the fact that the Totaljob’s survey found that 67% of respondents wouldn’t ever consider a career in social care due to concerns of low pay (42%) and emotionally challenging (41%) or unappealing (29%) work.

Many care workers are driven by their vocation but that doesn’t mean they’re any different to employees working elsewhere. They want to be able to work effectively without grappling with old IT systems, they want to feel valued and they want to be rewarded for their work. 

person holding black and white device     

The problem is that many home care providers or care homes are unable to pay more, even if they want to. However, they can help staff to choose when they get paid, often boosting mental health and wellbeing by offering a financial safety net.

It’s now possible for staff to draw out the money they’ve earned before payday via an app on their phone. Not only does this give them greater control over their salary, it’s also a good incentive to volunteer for extra shifts as people receive their pay quickly. In some cases, workers can also take out a percentage of their income before their usual payment date, building up a level of trust that is critical for employee satisfaction.

Data from our EarlyPay app shows how effective this can be, with 49 per cent of users reporting they were more likely to stay with their current employer over moving to a new organisation without on-demand pay access.

More broadly, technology is a powerful way to engage care home workers and make their lives easier, enabling them to concentrate on giving the best care possible. Training and other resources can also be delivered directly to them on their phone or computer, so they don’t have to take time away from work or study in their own time.

A virtual training programme puts learners in control, giving them access to tools at a time that suits them, rather than taking whole days out of their schedule to attend an in-person course. As well as mandatory training, such as medication management, flexible and efficient training also paves the way for continuous learning. Staff can build their wider skillset with courses in management or digital, which helps career progression, engagement and retention.  

Training can be targeted to each individual to help them build the skills they need in their everyday work and help them to achieve their career ambitions. Remote digital solutions offer flexibility and customisation that can reduce the risk of duplication, empowering each employee to work on the areas they actually need to improve, rather than taking a blanket approach.

Referring back to the boost in domiciliary care jobs, if more people are entering the sector, offering a flexible and supportive environment will continue to be key for recruiting and keeping talent within it. Competition will be fierce from other industries such as hospitality or tourism, so leaders must keep this in mind when planning new processes.

Alongside training and access to pay, considerations should also be made to systems used to manage staff rotas and shift patterns – moving to a virtual tool can save managers and employees time, while also giving both parties transparency to view and edit the working week.

Flexibility within a workplace is appealing to staff, especially when it comes to hiring young employees. Skills For Care report highlights the average age of a person joining the adult social care workforce was 35.6 years old, with managers on average starting around 29 years old.

Young people may have the view of a career in care involving long, anti-social hours but the opportunity to be flexible around the way they work could make the sector more appealing to a new generation of workers.

Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on care providers across the country, and the sector needs to make every effort to recruit and retain staff if we’re to support our ageing population. Health and social care senior teams must learn to retain their staff without compromising on service delivery. Technology could hold the key, as the world moves more and more online, with demands for flexibility and better opportunities at the forefront of hardworking recruits’ minds.

Photo Credit – engin akyurt

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