As the impact of coronavirus becomes clearer, issues with staff levels and recruitment processes in social care have come to light.
With COVID-19 rapidly forcing many changes on social care employers, the sector has had to drastically adapt the way it operates. One of the biggest emerging impacts is on staffing, which is set to intensify in the coming weeks and months.
In collaboration with CMM, I asked over 200 employers about the workforce challenges they were experiencing, the effect on their recruitment needs, and any action plans they had in place to combat them. Below are the key findings, followed by some practical steps I recommend employers take to relieve the pressure and adapt their recruitment.
Current staffing situation
On average, employers reported approximately 25% of their workforce was currently unable to work due to the impact of coronavirus. Allowing potential for some duplication across categories, it is likely the sector is now experiencing between a 15% and 20% staffing reduction at any one time.
Given that many employers already had job vacancies before the crisis, this represents a significant impact, which has the potential to worsen.
On a more positive note, almost three-quarters of care staff with school or pre-school aged children were successful in seeking key worker exemption, keeping their children in childcare. Of course, we can’t compare this to the experience of NHS staff in the same situation.
Unsurprisingly these workforce shortages have intensified pressures on recruitment, with a third of respondents describing their need for more staff as ‘urgent and immediate’.
By way of some compensation, there has been a reported increase in job enquiries, with 39% of employers reporting more applications than usual, and 17% reporting fewer – a net change of +22% than would be typical for this time of year.
However, bringing new staff onboard takes time, especially with social distancing constraints and operational pressures. Employers told us it is too early to determine the ‘suitability’ and ‘stickability’ of these recent jobseekers.
Employer actions plans
We asked employers about what actions they were taking to address workforce shortages around these four points:
- How they were speeding up the recruitment process.
- The opportunity to bring in more temporary staff.
- The potential for utilising volunteers.
- Managing social distancing during recruitment.
Speeding up recruitment
Almost 90% of employers are taking, or plan to take, steps to shorten the time to hire new staff. One of the longest delays in this can be completing DBS and reference checks, and 60% of employers saw the DBS Adult First check as a faster route to bring staff in, albeit accompanied, until the Enhanced DBS was received. Helpfully, recent changes by DBS include a Fast Track service, which can be used where the new starter is specifically being recruited to support someone with coronavirus, or coronavirus symptoms. Employers should read the guidance to determine whether their recruitment cases would qualify.
Reference-taking is another typical delay that has been made harder with office staff now working from home. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has addressed this in its most recent guidance.
You can find out more about the new DBS Fast Track service, and the latest CQC guidance on overcoming reference-taking challenges, on the Skills for Care website.
Digital technology is proving to be the most popular method of speeding up the whole process, encompassing a range of approaches such as online recruitment, video interviewing (which we look at in more detail below), and e-learning.
Another way to reduce staff deployment times could be to approach ex-colleagues, especially those who have left the sector but could be encouraged to return. Although attracting care workers currently employed with other providers can seem appealing, given their job-readiness, simply churning staff between settings is a zero-sum game.
Asking staff to identify their friends and contacts who may be recently out of work, and who they consider to have the right values for care, is another option and one most likely to bring in new entrants to the sector who will choose to stay after the crisis has passed.
Bringing in more temporary staff
About half of providers said they were considering using, or were already relying more on, temporary staff. For residential settings, this may mean turning to temporary staffing agencies or over-recruiting with the expectation that many recent jobseekers won’t have a long-term commitment to the role.
For homecare providers it is more likely to be the latter, given their generally very limited use of agency staff.
However, it’s important for all providers to bear in mind that agency workers might present a heightened risk of infection, as they move between several care settings.
The media has reported large numbers of volunteers coming forward to offer support in their local communities, either of their own volition or encouraged by initiatives like the National Care Force.
Just over a third of employers told us they had been approached directly by would-be volunteers, but over 60% of managers were unable or unsure on how to use this resource.
For many independent providers, this could be their first contact with volunteers, and it raises many questions, such as training, supporting and safety concerns. In contrast, the not-for-profit sector has deep experience of attracting, valuing and using volunteers.
Liz Jones, Policy Director at the National Care Forum commented, ‘We need volunteers now more than ever. Our members have a long history of using them, and they are ever more important during this COVID-19 crisis. Examples of how volunteers can lend a hand include – helping with household tasks in care homes, such as supporting the kitchen, catering, or laundry staff, offering phone-based or video-calling based companionship and connection with residents, helping with admin support or providing a pen pal or letter writing connection with the home.
‘The national drive for volunteers must ensure that social care can offer volunteering opportunities to the army of folks who have signed up, as well as the NHS and wider community support.’
More information on volunteering is available on the Methodist Homes (MHA) website, which has over 5,000 volunteers.
Social distancing during recruitment
Three-quarters of employers told us they have, or are about to, put in place social distancing measures as part of their recruitment process.
The most popular change is the use of video interviewing. But embracing this technology can be daunting for both interviewer and interviewee, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the technology or lack experience. To help with this, I asked Ian Inglis, director at Bluebird Care South Bucks, South Wycombe & Slough, a CQC Outstanding rated provider, who has video-interviewed applicants for over five years, to share his top tips for successful video interviews. You can find links to them in the resources section at the end of this article .
Almost half of employers said they are adding a telephone interview stage, where they previously didn’t have one. Every social care recruiter will have experience of telephone contact with applicants, but this is usually a short, unplanned (and unstructured) chat, more to confirm basic job requirements, such as access to a car or willingness to work unsociable hours, ending in a confirmation of a face-to-face interview date.
Because previously meeting in person was always the next step, there was never too much pressure to maximise the value of that call. But that has now changed. I recommend making the phone call work harder for you, hopefully putting potential new staff at ease, though do keep in mind the risk of over-formalising the call, thus frightening people off! I have listed some simple tips, also available in the resources section at the end of the article, as well as a template telephone screening form which you can adapt for your needs.
Learning disability provider leading by example
There are some great examples emerging of providers successfully – and rapidly – repurposing their entire face-to-face recruitment processes. One such case is Precious Homes, a national learning disability provider that, until the coronavirus restrictions, ran regular assessment days processing over 1,500 attendees a year.
‘We have replicated our entire assessment day experience virtually,’ explained Tony Ferrari, Head of Talent Acquisition & Retention. He said, ‘Applicants are first asked to record and send us a short video answering three evaluation questions. If they meet our criteria, they are then asked to take an Assessment Evaluation Task via an online survey. They are then sent a link to a short film explaining more about the role, the company and popular questions, and the final step is a live video interview with service managers via Skype or WhatsApp. We were adamant we would continue with our high standards of values-based and safer recruitment. The first two virtual assessment days resulted in 12 job offers.’
Completely reshuffling deeply engrained processes is not an easy feat, especially with such short time restrictions. This is a time of great change, and I believe that we in the care sector need to support each other, where possible, through this crisis. So, if you have any tips or tricks, or examples that are working for you, please share them – far and wide – so that anyone who is struggling to put measures in place for their own business might learn from them.
Thankfully there may be some positive points to come out of this otherwise very anxious and unusual time. Firstly, the brilliant new people that might discover (and hopefully stay in) social care, by volunteering, or sadly by being forced to change their career in this current climate. Secondly, there is no doubt that this pandemic will raise awareness of, and appreciation for, the critical work of our care workforce, and that will always be welcome.
Have you found recruitment practices that have helped to get staff in during coronavirus? What can you share with others? Make a difference by commenting on this feature.