How do you attract staff in an industry that’s plagued with bad press and low pay – but one that badly needs people who care?
With our second studio opening in Shrewsbury, we were looking for our first local client who was doing good in the area. A chance encounter put us in touch with Shropshire Partners in Care (SPiC), a membership organisation for care providers in the county.
SPiC wanted to raise the profile of adult social care. The team’s initial idea was to utilise the Department of Health and Social Care’s national recruitment campaign – Every day is different – to help its members improve their employee recruitment and retention, an ongoing issue they face.
The adult social care sector is expanding rapidly. It’s estimated that the number of jobs will increase by a whopping 36% (580,000 jobs) by 2035 if the sector workforce grows in line with our ageing population.
The sector pays notoriously low. The industry is plagued by bad press. And people perceive it to be “all about wiping bums”. It’s a hard sell.
But job applications are low. And the quality of applications even lower. Many people don’t appreciate what a health and social care career is. They’re often looking for a stop-gap until something ‘better’ comes along. Many will leave before they’ve even completed their training.
It’s hardly surprising. The sector pays notoriously low. The industry is plagued by bad press. And people perceive it to be “all about wiping bums”. It’s a hard sell.
Struggling to tell a positive story
We set out exploring how we could help. Of course, it was clear to see why the sector was struggling. But our research also showed that working in care wasn’t all doom and gloom. Far from it. Care has a lot to offer to the right people. Wonderful relationships with colleagues and patients. Genuine job satisfaction from knowing that each day is an adventure where you get to make a difference – to the lives of patients and their families. And a career for life with ongoing education, training and support. But it struggles to tell that story.
From the voices in our research, passion and enthusiasm for people shone through the brightest. “To think I wasted all those years in retail when I could have been here. Working in care is so rewarding – there’s nothing quite like it.” We found comments like this in abundance.
With our findings in hand, we designed a full-day training workshop for SPiC members – highlighting our primary focus in a provocative title: ‘Who cares?’. The objective we set them was to answer exactly that question, and begin to define and communicate what a career in care – in their organisation – is really about. That way, they could go on to find and keep people who care enough to be carers.
We started with a pre-workshop questionnaire to get a sense of participants’ needs, challenges and knowledge levels, which varied greatly. And to give them a chance to engage with the idea before the day.
The activities we created encouraged the group to explore what purpose, values, identity and working culture really are and why they’re vital to any organisation. And we began to show them how living these and articulating these well can help to attract and retain the right people – people who share their beliefs and intentions.
We got them thinking about the stories that focus on what really matters to people.
What really matters
We went on to define the ideal candidate; building a picture of who they wanted to recruit and how to use that insight to target them. We got them thinking about the stories that focus on what really matters to people, and looked at what makes a good care story. Then, using a simple framework, we showed them how to gather stories of their own and tell them in a way that would appeal to potential carers in their area.
“To ensure participants got the best out of the workshop, Neo tailored the content to help people really focus on the challenges they face around recruiting,” said Sophie Richards, project support officer at SPiC. “And they provided useful tools and techniques which attendees could implement within their own organisations.”
We learnt a lot that day about what it takes to be a good carer. Remembering 12 different tea orders a day. Handing out daily hugs to anyone who needs one. Listening with keen interest and enthusiasm even if you’ve heard the same story a hundred times. And the thing that links them all; the reason why they remember, hug and listen? Because they really do care.
Removing the internal barriers
Much as we love training – especially when we get the sort of feedback we did from this workshop – we love seeing results even more. But knowing there are often internal barriers to putting learning into practice, we provided one-to-one mentoring sessions for the participants.
With this individual focus, we were able to delve into deeper issues that affect working culture in care organisations. Often the way people are at work can undermine the values that are meant to unite them around the organisation’s higher purpose. These issues, perhaps manifesting in communication barriers and unproductive behaviours, are often fuelled by hierarchy and difficult group dynamics. So, we talked about the need for leaders to get below the surface and address the ‘elephants in the room’.
We left our participants with one final thought. If they could harness the potential of their teams to take shared responsibility for better ways of being and working, then this would surely help them achieve what they set out to do. To grow those teams with people who care as much as they do.