Social Care recruitment & retention Q&A with Neil Eastwood

Recruitment is a topic on everyone's lips in the care sector at the moment and we have certainly been doing an increasing amount of PR work in supporting the recruitment initiatives of many of our Social Care clients.

With this in mind, we invited one of our business acquaintances Neil Eastwood of Sticky People to give us an insight into recruitment and provide some key tips on what providers can do to ease the stress of recruitment and retention of staff... 


What is your professional background in the health and social care sector?

After some years involved in the European healthcare sector, I took an interim role as a director at Allied Healthcare. At the time, in 2009, it was the UK’s largest domiciliary care agency. That was my first experience of social care.

The workforce challenges I was exposed to there were on a different scale to those in healthcare and the catalyst for what has been seven years of research into frontline care recruitment and retention practices from around the world. It has become a bit of an obsession!

Why is recruitment currently such a challenge for care providers?

As little as three years ago, I would say UK providers did not see recruitment as a top five challenge. That has all changed and quickly. In fact, whilst researching overseas care sectors, I had seen the US care labour market start tightening up around 2010.  I would say by 2013 the UK first started experiencing a similar widespread shortage of quality candidates. There is no sign of this situation improving in the near term.

The causes are not down to a single issue of course. I would say the following are some of the key factors: Firstly competition from both new provider entrants and substitute employers such as retail and hospitality; secondly a reluctance in the under 25’s to make care a career choice, not helped by on-going negative media coverage (Winterbourne View in 2012 being a prime example). I would also add funding restrictions; worsening DBS delays and an increasing gap between the expectations of candidates and providers’ out-dated recruitment processes. I’ll stop there because that lot is already a pretty toxic cocktail!

What are your three top tips for people looking to recruit?

1. Have a recruitment strategy to target active retirees – they can’t be found very often on internet job boards and more mature staff are statistically more likely to be suited to a caring role.

2. Strip out all the fat from your recruitment process and focus early on what identifies a high potential candidate: an applicant’s motivation to work in care, their personality fit for the role and their workplace attitude. These characteristics, along with eligibility and availability, are key.

3.  Respond quickly to applicants, actively listen and be welcoming. Genuinely caring people who have a calling to help others are often much more sensitive to how they are treated in the recruitment process than those who just want any old job.

How can care providers attract the right type of people?

Well, we know that each source of applicants performs differently, so it is critical not to over-rely on just one or two sources, such as Internet Job Boards, which are crowded with competing employers and actually deliver a very poor percentage success rate.

I would be putting a lot more time and resource into community outreach, marketing and PR to get awareness of your service up, clearly differentiating yourself against other providers and communicating the intrinsic rewards of frontline care. There are many hidden local sources of staff. For example, I know of over 80 different sources that exist in most communities around any care setting. These include hot-spots like hospice support groups and informal carer groups.

Once you have a flow of applicants from a range of sources then putting in place a pre-screening filter, like our PeopleClues candidate screening tool, is the next step. It is critical to be able to spot suitable candidates quickly and fast-track them. Systems like PeopleClues also highlight weaknesses and risks and suggest targeted interview questions.

Finally your candidate experience has to be up to the job. Every touch-point with your organisation should be welcoming and applicants should be kept updated with the status of their application.

What role does marketing & PR play in recruiting people?

Marketing and PR is an increasingly important aspect of care recruitment because employers now have to work much harder to find and attract quality candidates against a backdrop of increasing competition.

These disciplines play a major role in raising local awareness, driving traffic to your website, in differentiating your employment offer, engaging audiences on social media as well as communicating the culture and values of your organisation.

I don’t see how providers can compete in today’s jobs market without a marketing-led approach to recruitment.

So now that our clients have filled all their roles, how can they hold on to their staff?

Retention is a really interesting topic! Firstly I would say that if you recruited well in the first place then your retention problems will be much reduced. Of course the setting has an impact – community-based care involving home visits is usually tougher work than residential-based care. We also know that not-for-profit providers generally have a lower staff turnover than independents.

But there is much a provider can do to minimise unnecessary staff loss whatever their setting or ownership structure. Saying thank-you regularly is top of my list. Appreciating care staff and making them feel part of a family; communicating that they and the work they do really matters.

There are also a range of localised factors that drive staff retention. For example I have seen a lot of success by training the supervisors of frontline staff in communication skills so that there is less conflict and blame.

In my experience every employer can improve their staff retention at little or no cost using a range of initiatives. After all the effort of finding staff nowadays, keeping them longer has never been more important.