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Attracting talent: Why age is no barrier to a career in care

The care sector is in the midst of a serious staffing crisis. Julia O’Connor, a recruitment specialist at Paterson Group, explains how you should keep an open mind in your recruitment process.

Looking ahead to what’s on the horizon, it feels as though things are going to get worse before they get better. One factor is the Government’s furlough scheme ending in September.

The ending of the scheme will mean workers who had taken up social care roles while their long-term careers were on hold, are likely to leave the industry and return to their previous jobs.

On top of that, from 11th November 2021, all care home staff in England must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (unless they are exempt). The Government predicts that the number of care home staff who face dismissal for refusing to be vaccinated is between 35,000 and 70,000, which puts care providers in a precarious position. Not only will the cost of replacing these workers be astronomical and a hugely demanding task, but the shortfall of care workers poses huge risks to residents who potentially face substandard care in the meantime.

Collectively, we need to create long-term solutions for a thriving workforce and part of this involves changing perceptions, developing routes for career progression and reinforcing the fact that opportunities in the social care sector are accessible regardless of age.

Removing barriers

Something that employers and agencies need to be better at is becoming more inclusive when it comes to their hiring processes. So many employers state a minimum amount of experience on their job descriptions, which could deter many applicants.

According to Age UK, there are now over 15 million people in the UK aged 60+ and over one million of those are in either paid or voluntary work. This is a huge talent pool, with vast life experience that businesses across the care sector could be tapping into.

Former qualified engineer Harry Seward smashed societal expectations by becoming a domiciliary care worker at the age of 65 at Respectful Care, a care home in Nottinghamshire. Now, five years later, Harry (70) says it is the most rewarding thing he has ever done and that he ‘wouldn’t change a thing’. Sharing his experience with CMM, Harry said, ‘I like meeting new people and you do become friends with a lot of residents. As long as you are physically fit and mentally fit to cope with this, there is no reason why elderly people cannot also be carers. If I keep myself fit, I could probably carry on doing this for another ten years!’

In times of crisis, out-of-the-box thinking is required and that includes considering people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

Generation Z

The kickstart scheme is a fantastic opportunity to engage with younger people, giving them access to
on-the-job training and learning and setting them up for a long-term career in care. Attracting and engaging people at the start of their career into the social care sector, can help to inspire their future career paths and starts to build a pipeline of talent for the sector.

Tara Currie, Registered Care Manager at 8 Acres care home in Attleborough, part of the National Care Group, made the decision to start a career in care. Reflecting on her decision, she said, ‘Aged 18, I left college with a job application in each hand – one for the police force, the other for the care sector – and becoming a carer was definitely the right decision. I’ve never had a single regret. I have progressed from a support worker to management. I can’t wait to see what the future holds both for my own career and for those starting out in the sector.’

Social media is a fantastic tool for connecting with generation Z.

Care providers can utilise social media by:

  • Giving an insight into different types of roles.
  • Showcasing positive messages from team members.
  • Interacting with audiences.
  • Promoting jobs.
  • Hosting virtual career days.

Applicant misconceptions

A major misconception, which could be preventing people from applying for roles in care, is that candidates need specific qualifications. However, for most entry-level roles, key skills and behaviours are much more important than qualifications. Initial training is typically provided in the first few weeks of employment and then further skills, experiences and even specialisms are developed over time.

A career in social care is perfectly suited to anyone who is compassionate, people focused and wants to make a difference. A Carers Week report, published in June 2020, found an estimated 4.5 million additional people had taken on caring responsibilities during the pandemic. A huge proportion of these people were young people caring for a family member.

Employers and agencies need to place greater emphasis on values and soft skills over qualifications. This will encourage a wider talent pool to engage with the application process.

Promote opportunities

There is a huge lack of awareness around the wider career opportunities offered by a career in care. Many people think being a carer means working in a care home and they don’t know about the opportunities in domiciliary care, disability care or the scope for progression to management level. We have been connecting with local colleges in Oxfordshire to help to change the perception of care amongst college students. Getting in front of this demographic and talking openly about the different types of roles, the training opportunities and ability to progress has been a great starting point and something we would recommend to other care providers and agencies.

Raising awareness of the other benefits that come with a career in care is also important. We know that it’s a demanding job choice; however, the reward that comes from making a real difference to people’s lives is invaluable. It’s also a very flexible career choice and flexibility is something that people want now more than ever before.

Having the option to work flexible hours and days to work around other commitments makes care a fantastic career choice for people of all ages and at all stages in their lives.

Changing careers

The pandemic has caused a real shift in what people want from a career, with purpose becoming a key driver for people. We also saw the ‘nightingale effect’, with record numbers of people applying to become nurses, despite knowing how demanding the role is. The sector has been in the spotlight for the last 18 months, creating a new-found respect for those who work in it.

As an industry, we need to be engaging with people who are looking to change direction in their careers and those starting out in their career journey. Part of this involves highlighting key attributes and life experiences that people can bring to a career in the care sector, rather than focusing on qualifications.

What can employers be doing?

Employers have a big role to play when it comes to attracting and retaining staff in careers within the sector. Part of this involves addressing issues that may have previously put people off and ensuring they can offer secure work, with reasonable pay and good working conditions. Adopting a values-driven recruitment approach also means demonstrating how staff are valued. Outlining a clear pathway to progression, opportunities for personal development and training, as well as prioritising mental health and wellbeing, will all help to boost job satisfaction and increase staff retention in the long term.

Other ways to engage with people who may be considering a career in care include hosting taster sessions on site, so they can see first-hand the type of roles they could be involved in and how they will be impacting on someone’s life for the better. Sending ambassadors of the company to community and college career days and putting on workshops to raise awareness about social care work are other proactive steps to take.

Working with agencies

Recruitment agencies have a lot more to offer than just covering short-term requirements or filling current roles. Agencies can work with care providers on succession planning, provide guidance on salary, benefits and wellbeing packages, and often have affiliations with other local businesses and education providers that can be useful to connect with.

Care providers need to be focused on both short- and long-term recruitment strategies; the more trends they can identify ahead of time, the longer they will have to source the best possible candidates for the roles. Regular communication between staff and managers will help businesses to understand the needs, goals, aspirations and future plans of their employees and adapt accordingly. Not only will this help to identify any potential staffing gaps, but it will also improve the relationship between care workers and their managers and help to increase retention by resolving any issues before they escalate and prioritising wellbeing and job satisfaction.

Perceptions of the care sector are changing for the better, partly thanks to the influence of the media. A recent docu-drama called Help, which aired on Channel 4, followed the story of a Liverpool care home and how they reacted and worked with the onset of the pandemic. It really shone a spotlight on the impact on the staff working through those challenging times and reinforced the importance of the role of care workers.

The key take-homes

  • Raise awareness of the diverse range of careers on offer.
  • Share real-life examples of people of all ages in the workplace.
  • Emphasise a values-driven approach over qualifications.
  • Reinforce how rewarding a career in care is.
  • Highlight the flexibility of many roles.

There is no better time for care providers, agencies and industry bodies to connect with people of all demographics. Now is the time to capitalise on this changed perception of social care and build a quality workforce for the future.

Julia O’Connor is a recruitment specialist at Paterson Health and Social Care. Email:  Twitter: @patersonhc

About Julia O Connor

Julia O’Connor started working for Paterson Health and Social Care (PHC) as a recruitment consultant in 2001 and worked her way up to become branch manager before joining another business to gain experience in another field of recruitment.
Julia re-joined PHC in 2017, initially as the Client Relationship Manager, where she was lucky enough to work more closely with clients to develop some excellent relationships and ongoing partnerships. She now has over 20 years’ experience in the recruitment industry.

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