My work brings me into daily contact with those responsible for recruiting frontline care staff across all types and sizes of provider. All told, I must speak with over 750 managers and recruiters a year.
Each one of these conversations are valuable touch-points, which collectively create a rich real-time picture of a wide range of recruitment methods and of the changing behaviour and shifting expectations of applicants.
Due to the fragmented nature of our social care system, employers can feel isolated and their methods and approaches to recruitment can gradually become out of step with best practice. Without any external benchmarks then inertia can set in.
If you are seeing diminishing returns from your efforts to attract new staff, then it could be time to rethink your recruitment. If that sounds of interest, I’d like to propose five underlying principles to get you started.
We need to think beyond simply filling the hopper
Care recruitment is often treated as a numbers game. In many cases, the goal that recruiters work to is to get as many prospective new starters in play as possible. This is on the basis that a percentage of applicants will leak away at every stage of the recruitment process.
Let’s take internet job boards as an example. The number of applicants lost at each stage of the recruitment funnel is often quite similar between employers. A typical example might be – of 100 application emails in your inbox, you will invite 20 to interview. Eight of these actually show up and after references and DBS checks, five make the first training day and three go on to complete three months of employment. One, or fewer, can be left after 12 months.
There are many flaws with this ‘quota’ method from a quality care perspective and as job boards and other job-seeker ‘marketplaces’ become clogged with competing employers, it is going to become unsustainable in the coming years.
In order to break out of this mind-set, we need to shift our measure of recruitment success much later, to how many of our recruits successfully complete at least 12 months of employment. This simple change will bring the performance of each source of new staff into sharp focus.
Of course, once a candidate becomes an employee then there are many factors outside the recruiter’s control that can push someone to leave the organisation. This could include a stroppy supervisor; unrelenting requests to cover shifts or a lack of appreciation. The list goes on. But as I have witnessed time and time again, if the right person is selected and they build relationships with their clients, then they will be loath to break that powerful bond.
As such, choosing the most suitable applicants always wins out over ‘any warm body’ because they will stay longer and be better at their job. That is why a focus on the long game ensures you concentrate your efforts on selecting and nurturing the stayers. This simple change of focus will force you to rethink your approach to sourcing, attracting and screening candidates.
Diversify your applicant sources
We are all guilty of over-reliance on internet job boards. My personal view is that this medium has made things worse, not better, for the social care recruiter. This is with the possible exception of the live-in care sector, where candidates can, at least, be sourced from around the world much more easily.
Internet job boards have lowered the barriers of entry too far for candidates, encouraging multiple half-hearted applications. Page after page of identikit job adverts, make it a struggle for employers to stand out unless their pay rates are, or appear to be, well above the market rate. Not only that, by relying on this source, we are biasing our candidate pool towards only those actively job-seeking. Active job seekers can often be driven by motivations other than altruism and caring, such as the need for any job or a preference for serial job-hopping.
To overcome this, I encourage employers to be active in as many of the main five social care recruitment channels as possible. (See chart.) Employers should also test the sources in each, such as the examples shown, to find a mix that works for their particular needs and setting.
The five social care recruitment channels with examples of sources
© Sticky People
By widening your recruitment options, you will attract a more diverse range of applicants and, I would argue, are more likely to find candidates who are motivated to care for your clients for the right reasons.
Pre-screen for motivation and attitude
A recent US study looking at the motivation of domiciliary care staff found that 60% of those polled chose the work because they enjoyed being with, and wanting to help, older people. Another 32% chose the care sector because of a lack of other opportunities. The remaining 8% saw it as a stepping-stone to other health-related work.
The study went on to discover that, keeping all other factors constant, the 32% of care workers who had motivations other than the caring aspect were significantly more likely (62.5% vs. 25.6%) to have clients who fell and fractured a bone, than those who enjoyed being with and helping older people.
We also know from extensive psychological research that those whose personalities suit their job role are more likely to stay and enjoy the work. Pre-screening applicants against these criteria helps recruiters fast-track the right candidates and look beyond simply favouring those with existing experience of paid care work.
The further unsuitable applicants go through your recruitment process, the more they cost the organisation in time, effort and money. Introducing effective early stage screening techniques allows recruiters to prioritise those with the most chance of becoming high-performing, long-term employees.
The ‘candidate experience’ matters more than ever
If you recruit primarily from an active jobseeker source like a job board then your whole approach to applicants can quickly reflect your experience with this type of jobseeker. All too often, I see the frustration of the recruiter, who regularly deals with high volumes of poor suitable candidates, coming across in the job advert.
‘You MUST be available to work weekends.’
‘We DO NOT accept provisional licence holders.’
‘You must be friendly and reliable.’
Of course, it is essential to give applicants hurdles to jump over to confirm their commitment during the application process. However, it is also critical that our tone of voice communicates friendliness and warmth, however fickle and unreliable our applicants appear.
This is because relationship-centric people, those tuned to the needs of others, seek a family-like and caring culture from their workplace.
Brusque advert wording and curt telephone or text exchanges will dissuade this group faster than those who desperately need a job. Friendliness and a genuine interest in the jobseeker throughout the application process are, therefore, important aspects of candidate experience.
This is becoming even more important as competing employers, such as those in retail and hospitality, can be much more tuned-in to the importance of the candidate experience due to their dealings with increasingly demanding customers. They are also much more aware of their brand reputation, and of the downside risk of negative social media feedback from unhappy applicants.
In addition, a recruitment process geared-up only for those actively seeking work, can be unsuitable for other types of potential staff. A hesitant return-to-work mum, curious about whether a paid care role is for her, probably shouldn’t be hustled into an interview. An informal chat with an existing member of the care team would be much more appropriate at the early stages of contact. Similarly, making uploading a CV a mandatory first step, will dissuade those who don’t have an up-to-date one prepared.
As such, whilst candidate experiences should always be warm, it must also be tailored to the needs of the individual.
Also, how you handle those you reject for a job, plays an increasingly important role in your reputation. Especially as disaffected jobseekers are more likely to take to social media and review sites to vent their frustrations.
Recruitment is a shared responsibility
Too often, particularly in larger employers, recruitment is seen as the responsibility of a central HR team. In smaller providers, it may be a burden, juggled by overworked registered managers.
It is too important for either situation to prevail. By getting all staff to understand what traits and behaviours you seek in your care or support workers, you move from perhaps a single person, or even no-one, waking up every day thinking about recruitment, to an entire organisation on the lookout for new staff.
Also, once you properly engage with your local community, your stakeholders and use social media to reach out to targeted groups, then the chances of connecting with a diverse range of prospective new staff, not on job boards, rises even further.
If you then re-purpose your recruitment process to identify the strongest applicants earlier, and make them immediately feel that they have found the right place for them, a place where they are going to be valued and listened to, then you have just rebooted your recruitment ready for the challenges ahead.
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