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EXPERT COMMENT: How to optimise care staff recruitment during the coronavirus pandemic

Neil Eastwood

Neil Eastwood, CEO of social care recruitment specialist Sticky People and founder of employee referral app Care Friends, offers expert advice on how home care providers can ramp up the recruitment of quality staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

You don’t need me to tell you a lot has changed for the in-house recruiter in the past month. One of the critical challenges for home care agencies now is how to maintain and, in many cases, rapidly ramp up, recruitment of care workers whilst respecting social distancing rules.

But let’s start on a positive note: this has been a transformational period for social care – not only in terms of public awareness, but also the positive shift in image. This will no doubt help us recruit in the months and years ahead, and I also predict it will improve our staff retention going forward. Care workers are feeling respected and acknowledged – even applauded on the street, and there is a strong sense of duty and spirit of teamwork. We need these tailwinds, because it’s likely that the demand for home-based care will increase further, becoming the favoured option over residential settings that have suffered from pandemic outbreaks.

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The market for care worker jobs is suddenly buoyant. Applications for paid care work are on the up. Volumes vary due to local conditions, sometimes in the extreme, for example, homecare providers near Gatwick Airport have reported huge increases in enquiries due to the impact on the aviation sector. But generally there is a noticeable rise in applicants for care roles across the country.

Prioritising recruitment channels

More applications doesn’t mean your recruitment problems have gone away. We need to keep our focus on quality over volume in the sector, continually emphasising the recruitment channels that are more likely to deliver long-staying high-performers.

My first port of call would always be to look to your own workforce to help identify those with the right values and behaviours. We are preparing to launch an employee referral app called Care Friends this June, and so we have years of research about staff recruitment behind us. Our research has found that employee referrals make up the largest percentage of high performers in home care, as reported by their managers, so now is the time to refresh and re-market any referral schemes you have in place. Right now your staff will have many of their friends and contacts looking for work, and they will want to help them. Their recommendations should give you confidence to progress these candidates, so don’t miss out on this brilliant recruitment source.

I would also reach out to past employees that you would re-employ. Even if they aren’t available, they may know someone who is, and they know the sort of people you’re looking for. We have found that typically 30% of those you ask to return will come back.

Social distancing rules mean that where community outreach and word of mouth (usually reliable, if a little low volume) were great ways to find high-quality staff before, they have now dried up for the time-being. Because of this, people will rely more on internet job-board adverts and social media, typically Facebook. Here, the trick is to stand out from other adverts and differentiate your offer. The Department of Health and Social Care has just announced additional support to employers through their ‘Every Day Is Different’ campaign, including free job-board listings.

Screening and interviewing using social distancing

Our first job is to triage applications that have been triggered by the pandemic. They will be a mix of would-be volunteers, those seeking any job urgently, or perhaps some who are making a considered career choice with a newfound awareness of homecare. For many, this will be a short-term commitment, at least until some discover the intrinsic rewards of care.

Given social distancing, we need to make our telephone interviews work harder and try to move what used to be a face-to-face interview to a remote video call. For the telephone stage I recommend using a template to structure the call. Note how they sound – are they friendly and engaged? Do they listen? It is important to build a relationship, so probe their motivation and explore signs of caring or giving. And don’t forget, we know previous family care experience is the best marker of success in homecare.

The video interview can be daunting for both parties. Try to choose a platform that the interviewee is comfortable with – such as WhatsApp or Skype for example – and have a test run with a colleague or family member to familiarise yourself with it. This is a time to keep value-based recruitment methods top-of-mind, because being physically apart from the candidate makes it much harder to interpret non-verbal cues.

Improving the job offer to hire period

Typically DBS (England and Wales), Disclosure Scotland or Access NI (Northern Ireland) checks, along with taking employment references, were always one of the most lengthy steps of the recruitment process. Fast track police check services have been introduced in response to the workforce pressures caused by COVID-19, and early reports show that this is a much improved turnaround time. In England CQC has issued new guidance on reference checks given that previous employers will be harder to reach. Skills for Care summarises the latest changes here.

Whilst for recruiters, onboarding new starters faster is a welcome change, there is more to do to maximise the chances of every successful applicant starting work. One obstacle we are now facing is family members of new employees feeling worried about their loved ones coming into contact with the virus. It is therefore important to reassure them about the protective measures your organisation takes, and the availability of PPE – give them all the information they need to help their families feel more at ease.

Reducing unnecessary early staff turnover

After all the effort of bringing on desperately needed new staff, we must make sure steps are taken to minimise voluntary turnover in the first 90 days – particularly since over 40% of new care workers are typically known to leave in this period. Simple steps that can improve any experience include: ensuring the new starter receives a personal welcome by the owner or a director, using welcome signage with their name, and assigning an experienced colleague to be their buddy or ‘peer mentor’.

In this time of unprecedented need, it is more important than ever to regularly show appreciation to each and every staff member for their contribution. This means keeping them informed of news, changes and updates, and always being visible and accessible. Because, I’m sure you’ll agree, the principles of best practice recruitment have never mattered more.

Tags : coronavirusNeil EastwoodRecruitment
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