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Allocate Software spoke to Neil Eastwood, international speaker on care worker recruitment and retention, Founder and CEO of Care Friends (Global) and author of ‘Saving Social Care’, and Ross Bell, Director at Care Advantage and Care Friends (ANZ), to discuss the workforce challenges faced by the care sector in both the UK and Australia. The discussion aims to share learnings and experiences to help providers prepare for what may be on the horizon.

Neil Eastwood
Founder and CEO of Care Friends (Global)

Ross Bell
Director at Care Advantage and Care Friends

While each country faces their own specific challenges, there are some common themes in the social care workforce that we are seeing in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The UK and Australia are amongst those that are on a very similar track. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, care leaders predicted that the UK was roughly three to four years ahead of Australia in relation to the social care workforce agenda. Now, 18 months on, it’s believed to have accelerated, and now Australia looks to be just 12 months behind the UK. So, what’s changed, and what can we learn from it?

Job seekers pool shrinks dramatically

Over the last 8 weeks, we’ve seen the job seekers pool diminish for the social care sector in the UK, with very few candidates responding to job advertisements. “Some providers reported seeing applicant numbers drop to about 10% of what they used to receive from their advertising on internet job boards.” said Neil. Ross added that Australia is seeing the same trend: “There has been a decline in the number of applications in Australia as well, with some providers seeing a 40 – 50% reduction in people applying for care roles.”

Workers threaten to quit over mandatory vaccination

In some areas of the UK, only 57% of care workers are vaccinated. The feedback is that some people will do it if it threatens their job, but that doesn’t account for everyone. “A recent survey from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation highlighted that 31% of their members working in social care in Western Australian (WA) said they would quit the industry if having a COVID-19 vaccination became mandatory,” Ross said.

Border closure costs loss of migrants to fill care roles

Yet the pandemic has already cost the loss of migrants, which has a huge impact on the social care workforce. In the UK, about 16% of social workers are migrants. In Australia, that number increases to 37%. With the pandemic and closure of borders, immigration has paused, so providers are already losing a good pool of workforce. The UK, for instance, has lost 1.8 million EU workers during the pandemic, with 10% of them going into social care – that’s 180,000 less workers.

Neil explained the loss of migrants is not that straightforward. “Migrants are well known for their flexibility, hardworking and their willingness to work unfriendly social hours due to the fact that they might not have a family locally and therefore have less responsibilities on that front. So sometimes when you look for a local worker to fill the shifts a migrant works, you might need one and a half local workers to fill those hours.”

Retention at risk as competitions from other sectors are back

While we’ve seen social care staff turnover improve during the pandemic, Neil explained that could be temporary. “It was largely due to people fearing job security during the financially challenging time. Some feel that they have a commitment to their service users, residents, or clients who they’ve built up a relationship with, protecting their welfare. But as restrictions ease and things start to open up, we’re starting to see the economy bounce back. The unemployment rate is dropping significantly with competition from retail, hospitality and tourism looking to hire more staff. Everyone that has joined the care sector within the last 12 months who is new to care is likely to be attracted to a job in these sectors, as pay rates and benefits may prove to be more appealing.”

And let’s face it, working in social care or social care is a pretty difficult job even before the pandemic – low wages, long shifts and unsocial hours are just a few things that make recruitment and retention so difficult. Hospitality, on the other hand, has the flexibility to offer more wages as demand increases.

“But money is not the answer to this alone,” Neil added. “Surveys from the US revealed that 60% of home care workers said having a calling for care is their motivation behind joining the sector, 8% wanted a career as a nurse and see that as a steppingstone; 32% of the workforce simply wanted local work.”

So for the people who do not have a calling to care, will they leave when things change in the economy?

Pandemic leaves the care workforce in exhaustion and burnt-out

During the pandemic, we rely even more on the already strained workforce to fight on the frontline and look after the most vulnerable; they are emotionally and physically strained. The workforce is exhausted and burnt-out; many suffer from PTSD and goodwill has taken an impact. Some staff will look to their managers, who are often also under additional pressure at present due to higher workforce absences; visiting service users to cover calls; completing the additional COVID-19 reports and ensuring that people who are at risk are not left vulnerable. The younger workers who are thinking about their career may be looking towards their manager, thinking ’is that a role I want?’. Providers are confronted with retention rates dropping rapidly and the job seekers pool shrinking to a level they have never seen before. And all it does is add more pressure for the existing staff. When managers are being pulled to the floor to fill a shift themselves, they’re unable to provide the ongoing staff support.

“The pressure is really getting to a level we have never seen before,” Neil said. “But there are things providers can do on improving their retention to prevent voluntary staff loss, as well as increasing their pipeline to help with recruitment. We’ve seen some successful strategies here in the UK and are happy to share them with our Australian colleagues.”

Stay tuned to our next blog where Neil and Ross will be sharing some of the learnings and strategies that have proven to be effective in improving staff retention in social care. Meanwhile, if you have an experience to share or a particular question you would like to ask, please send them to [email protected].


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