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Think local: How to successfully recruit and retain staff in your area

The workforce crisis facing the social care sector is not going away any time soon. Jim Thomas, Head of Workforce Capacity and Transformation at Skills for Care, explains how to recruit a local workforce and how to encourage them to stay.

I’m constantly surprised by the Skills for Care data on the adult social care workforce:

  • Most registered managers live within seven miles of the place they work.
  • Most nurses live within 4.5 miles of the place they work.
  • Most support workers live within 3.5 miles of the place they work.

These are average distances; I’m sure there’s a difference between social care organisations that cover rural locations and those covering urban areas. However, this information suggests to me that much of our recruitment and retention activity needs to have a local focus.

Being locally focused means that you may need to be clearer about where to advertise to stand more chance of success. If there are a lot of social care organisations nearby, you might find that you’re all trying to find staff from a very small pool.

 Seven principles

I’ve started to think about some of the things we need to look at when we’re exploring how to find and keep our staff. I’ve called these ‘the principles for finding and keeping workers’.

There are seven principles for finding and keeping workers:

  1. Systems: Understand how your local jobs market works and what your future workforce needs – what pushes and pulls people to and from different jobs.
  2. Change: Be aware of how change impacts on your existing workforce and people who might think about working for you.
  3. Nurture: Everyone needs to feel nurtured at work, from the support worker to the CEO; we all need affirmation if we’re going to do our best.
  4. Engage: Listen to and learn from your workforce and others about what keeps people in jobs and makes them want to work for you.
  5. Learning: Never underestimate the value of learning and development as a recruitment and retention tool – including learning from the people you and your team support.
  6. Encourage: Everyone should be encouraged to get involved in developing the way they work. It’s about what we do and the autonomy we have to make decisions, not the role we occupy.
  7. Understand: What attracts people to live and work in a certain neighbourhood. Share your workplace values and show them why you’re their local employer of choice.


Every local job market is different. Some local job markets will have more young people – maybe linked to a further education college or a university – either looking for their first job, a job in the holidays or to work alongside their studies. In other areas, there might be a large local NHS hospital that pulls in lots of support workers, making it harder to retain people in social care: ‘We get people through their qualifications and then they move to the hospital’ is something employers often raise.

What you need to do is understand the things that impact on your ability to recruit and retain people and adjust your thinking accordingly; for example, going into the local college and talking to students about what it’s like to work in social care, or raising issues with the local hospital and seeing what they could do to support you. For example, the hospital may pay for the training of those staff whilst they were employed by you.


Change can be disruptive and an opportunity. Different people respond in different ways. If you’re contemplating changing the way your organisation works, or there are changes to commissioning arrangements, ask yourself, ‘How will this impact on recruitment and retention?’ Will you get a reputation for being an employer that chops and changes without any thought to how it impacts on your workforce? Are you an employer that implements change (as far as you can) in partnership with your staff team?

I’m reminded of the manager who started in a new role by explaining how they were going to ‘shake things up’. They shook things so hard that all their staff left and CQC moved the services rating from outstanding to inadequate. The organisation’s contract for the service got taken away because there was no one left who had the knowledge and experience to meet the needs of the people being supported.

What you need to do is be clear about why you’re implementing change – for example, being honest with your team about why change is happening and involving them in making change work as much as you can.


‘Thank you’ is an underrated recruitment and retention tool. Regular supervision and being in listening mode can make a difference to staff motivation to come to work and stay in their current role. Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing.

Treasure your workforce. Listen to their concerns – this ensures people feel valued and motivates them to do their best.

Nurturing your workforce is about managing every aspect of their performance. If one member of your team isn’t performing well at work and you don’t tackle this, it will impact on the rest of your team and they may respond: ‘Why should we do this if they don’t have to? No one ever says anything to them.’

Two things that people value about work is the ability to make decisions and having a degree of autonomy about how they do their job. This is something that social care is able to offer people.

What you need to do is think about how you can nurture people in your organisation to have confidence to make decisions and feel they have autonomy to make things happen. Trust your workforce. For example, use team meetings to help people understand where they can be autonomous about how they support people and highlight when people have used their initiative to improve someone’s care and support.


Engage with your local community. Be present. Be an organisation that people living nearby know about. If you’re working in people’s homes, engage with others who see them at home and enable your workforce to do so as well. If you’re running a building-based service, make sure you aren’t hidden behind a six-foot wall.

The more you get your workforce to engage with the local community, the more people will understand what you do. People might become interested in working for you or volunteering for you.

What you need to do is listen and learn from your own workers and others about what keeps people in local jobs and makes them want to work for you. This is your most effective recruitment tool. What your workforce says about you to their friends, family and the local community is the best form of promotion. For example, if people would like to come and talk to you about what it’s like to work in social care, say ‘yes’ frequently.


For many people, the opportunity to learn and develop is as important as other terms and conditions of employment. Never underestimate the value workers place upon opportunities to learn. People with access to lots of learning opportunities at work are often more motivated.

What you need to do is give people the space and time to take on learning opportunities. This may be formal qualifications or it may be a non-formal qualification. Support learning every day and your workers will grow every day. For example, defend your training budget and look for other funding you can find to supplement it.


Encourage people to share their ideas about how to improve what you do. Be open to everyone having a valuable contribution to make. Avoid hierarchies as much as you can. The workforce that spends the most direct time supporting people will often have the best ideas about how to improve someone’s care and support.

Make sure people get acknowledgement when things go well and support them when things go wrong. Organisations that are open when mistakes are made are often more efficient than ones that try to hide mistakes.

What you need to do is get everyone involved in developing the way in which people work and how people are supported. It’s about what we do and the autonomy we have to make decisions, not the role we occupy that’s important. For example, enable people to share ideas and help them to try things out.


With many competing opportunities for work in any neighbourhood, you have to be clear about why you’re the employer of choice. The more you understand about where people who come to work for you come from and what makes them choose to work for you, the more you can begin to understand why people work for you.

Explore local adult social care workforce data. Look at how you compare to other local social care organisations and think about how this impacts on you. Do you pay the same as other local social care employers? A bit more, or a bit less? If pay isn’t impacting on your workforce, what are the other factors that encourage or discourage people from working for you? Perhaps you have good parking? A good local bus service? A reputation for being ‘good to work for’.

What you need to do is think about what attracts people to live and work in a certain neighbourhood and how you can get people in your neighbourhood into your organisation and keep them. For example, find time to talk to local groups about what your organisation does and how they can help you to achieve great care and support.


The more you know about the people in your local area and your own workforce, the more you can target your resources into the things that are most likely to help you keep the people you have and find new people who, once they’ve started, will want to stay.

Jim Thomas is Head of Workforce Capacity and Transformation at Skills for Care. Email:  Twitter: @skillsforcare 

How have you engaged with your local community to boost local recruitment? And which key areas do you think help people to stay? Comment below.



About Jim Thomas

Jim Thomas is Head of Workforce Capacity and Transformation at Skills for Care. He is also a member of the leadership team for the UK Social Care Impact Centre. Jim’s work has included leading national programmes on workforce redesign, the development of principles for workforce integration, skills-led approaches to community development, exploring workforce wellbeing, developing the workforce supporting people with a learning disability and autistic people, and exploring workforce issues on digital working.

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