Recruitment: Radical solutions to the ageing ‘care crisis’

Featured article - 17 November 2016
By John Craig, Chief Executive, Care City

Head-shot of the author, John Craig, Chief Executive, Care City

When hair-dressing or estate agency are booming we hear about the benefits. When social care is booming, we only tend to hear about the costs. The miracle of longevity is translated as the ‘care crisis’. However, there is a chance to make ageing the catalyst for a stronger economy and society.

The social care workforce is an example. To the east of London, where Care City is based, Havering has London’s oldest population while Barking & Dagenham has London’s highest unemployment. Meanwhile, providers face unfilled vacancies and high agency costs.

The opportunity is to attract and support local people to join the social care workforce. Locally, health and care providers know their biggest job is to deliver services, but that it’s not their only job. They are major employers, and have a stewardship role in the economy. Through Care City, they hope to build on what they are already doing to create quality jobs for local people. In the process, there is a chance not only to save money, but also to strengthen the things that affect health.

Society’s ageing is not simply producing a growing demand for paid care, it is helping to shrink the labour force. And these labour and skill shortages might be intensified if immigration is to play a lesser role in addressing them.

Radical thinking is needed. When airline Jet Blue faced a shortage of pilots in the US, they ran a talent identification programme among their baggage handlers. Some established pilots didn’t like it, but former baggage handlers – those with the most spatial awareness and the steadiest hands and nerves – now fly Jet Blue planes.

What would our own version of this radical thinking look like? As an innovation centre for healthy ageing, we are starting to ask:

People want to do good work, not just any job, and pay and conditions in social care are under pressure. If employers and employees could make more lasting commitments to one another – saving significant agency costs – what additional benefits – personal, financial, educational – might we unlock for new recruits?

The system and the wider public may not have the right image of care work, and what it takes to succeed. If what really matters is attitude, heart and work ethic, can we become more open about where people join the social care workforce from, and the range of exciting careers in to which they progress and help people acquire the professional knowledge they need?

Paid social care work may have become too divorced from wider social and entrepreneurial life. As huge numbers of family, friends and neighbours already care for others in some way, can we – avoiding unintended consequences - shift the entry point to paid work and entrepreneurship closer to where they already are?

It is fantastic to have SCIE’s report on recruitment and retention of social care staff in East London. At Care City, we will look forward to working with SCIE and others as we continue to explore these questions.

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