Recruiting the best home care or domiciliary staff is an ongoing challenge in our sector.  With low rates of pay, demanding working conditions and a frequent association with negative stories in the press means that recruiting home care staff can seem like an uphill struggle.

At the same time, we need more home care staff than ever before.  The social care sector needs to recruit 128,000 new workers each year to replace those who retire or leave.  In 2016, the latest data we have, the sector managed to recruit just 20,000.  Down from 65,000 in 2010!

Before we go any further, significant hat tip to Neil Eastwood for all the great work he’s done on promoting a lot of the points I go on to mention below – many of these are shamelessly lifted from his book Saving Social Care (which we heartily recommend!)

The Perception of Home Care Staff

It’s fair to say that as a rule the press isn’t kind to the social care sector “Fear as millions of OAPs at risk from carers with no training: Chaos of our care system” screamed in the Daily Express on 15th July 2019), as a result of the increased scrutiny of care staff and their qualifications.

To date there has been no broadly recognised ‘carer qualification’ to aid training and recruitment.  This does not mean that carers are not carefully and expensively trained by committed agencies. Far from it.  But, the public perception – thanks to shrill media headlines – is that there are swathes of untrained care staff in roles of great responsibility.  We all know this isn’t true, but unfortunately the seed has now been sown in the public consciousness

Mention should be made here of the Care Badge initiative. Aping the NHS badge worn by politicians as a mark of honour across the country, the Care Badge aims to bring the same approbation and recognition to carers.  This is a great token of respect – and a great initiative – but there is a deeper and more complex issue to tackle here: social care workers, and domiciliary care workers in particular, desperately need some kind of official qualification to improve recognition of their skills and experience.

So, recruiting for the role needs to cut through some of the negative perceptions around what it is to be a home care worker.  The role will never be as highly paid or glamourous as many other roles out there, but recruitment should focus on the high points which attract the best kind of home care workers.

Attracting the Best Home Care Workers

Working in home care is certainly not for everyone.  Life as a carer can be very demanding, emotionally draining and testing of one’s resolve.  However, it is one of the most rewarding vocations for those who embrace it.

The ideal carer will have a ‘calling for care’, which is invaluable in getting them through the tough days and challenges the role presents.  It’s worth noting, one of the most popular recruitment tools – internet job boards – performs relatively poorly in terms of recruiting for this calling.

Domiciliary Care Recruitment

Research indicates that, on average, care workers recruited from employee referrals actually end up being the best carers.  This is not to belittle the value of carers recruited elsewhere, but when considering recruitment options it’s worth asking your existing team for their recommendations and referrals.  The Care Friends app from Neil Eastwood makes the process even easier for your care staff to do this – take a look!

Another good recruitment avenue is looking for people who already have experience in caring for a loved one.  This often means recruiting people who are more mature. In fact, there are over 1 million people aged between 50 and state pension age who are not working but would like to be potentially a great untapped workforce just waiting for the right opportunity.

Over 1 in 10 people in the UK is a family carer – individuals who will have already experienced the rewards (and adapted to the challenges) of supporting others.  These individuals may not be actively looking for work as a carer, so think about creative ways you can reach them and present the opportunity in compelling terms (Neil Eastwood points to Facebook as an fruitful recruiting ground!)

Research also indicates that good staff who have left a home care agency may be tempted back (about 30% of ‘good leavers’ come back within 6 months if asked).  The ties to those they cared for may not have seemed strong at the time, but on reflection a considerable percentage can be tempted to return – consider how you can make it attractive for them to do so

Barriers to Home Care Staff Applications

It’s certainly not easy recruiting for the right care staff, so what can be done to ensure you don’t put them off before they even apply?  Apparently, one of the first turn offs can be a requirement for a CV. If you’re recruiting for passive job-seekers (those already in work and not actively seeking a new role) then they almost certainly won’t have an up-to-date CV.

Records show that approximately 70% of applications for home care roles are made by a mobile phone.  Consider all aspects of your application process from this perspective. How easy is it to make an application from such a small screen?

Next up is the interview itself.  This is a big barrier to our ideal candidates, who are typically more introverted than extroverted.  Think about ways you can reduce the pressure and discomfort. Interview slots around 5pm work better than morning slots (lower no-show rates), building a personal connection ahead of the interview can also reduce no-shows.  Simple things like texting ‘good luck’ to the candidate the day before and explaining that the interview is low-key and informal can really help.

But What About the Wages?

A recent study found a care assistant’s average weekly salary to be £350 a week  – £200 lower than the UK average. This is clearly not great news when trying to recruit.

To provide further perspective, 59.5% of social care workers are fearful of asking for more pay, and 51.4% have never negotiated on parts of a job offer.  The same source indicates that 54.8% of social care workers have not received a pay rise in the last 12-18 months and of those who did, four in 10 (42.9%) received a minimal increase of just 2%.

Perhaps these figures are why 80% of care providers cite low wages as the biggest barrier to recruiting care staff, and 76% cite low wages are the biggest barrier to retaining staff?

However, the best carers tend not to be motivated by the need for a competitive wage.  Many of the best-performing carers are motivated by a ‘calling to care’ or the satisfaction of helping those in need.

Working in a front-line care role is never going to make you rich, but recruiters should not dwell too much on this.  Yes, there are payment issues which desperately need addressing (e.g. minimum wage compliance and payments for sleepovers) but recruiting for care should focus on the more rewarding aspects of the job: its flexibility; its rewards; its intrinsic social value and the fact that it isn’t office-based.

Retaining Home Care Staff

Once all the hard work of recruiting is complete, don’t forget to welcome your new starters with open arms.  Make them feel welcome and valued and regularly appreciate the good work they do!

Care managers would do well to focus on the relationships with their carers, doing everything they can to support and encourage those who provide this valuable service.

Working in care is full of challenges, so make sure your systems and processes are as streamlined and user-friendly as possible.  No one wants to lose a capable carer because of admin frustrations.

Consider providing carers with an app, to make communication, rota distribution and even call monitoring easier.  Whilst call monitoring might sound a little ‘big brother’ to your care staff initially, they’ll love the way this can be used to pay them exactly the right amount for their travel and waiting time and even generate timesheets automatically (less boring admin for your team). Plus, call monitoring is also ‘lone worker protection’ by another name.

We dive into common challenges and solutions to retaining staff in home care in another blog post, so you may find this of interest too.

Also, remember to take a look at Neil Eastwood’s book Saving Social Care for more information on the above and lots more besides.

Hiring the best home care staff