Mar 16

Working together to fix social care recruitment

Posted: 4 March 2016

A future perspective from Steve Scown, CEO of Dimensions and chair of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG), and Sharon Allen, CEO of Skills for Care


Last week I was talking to a new support worker who has recently joined Dimensions. He’s come into social care towards the end of his working life and he was honest enough to tell me it wasn’t his first choice – it was a job and he needed to earn a wage. He’s surprised himself at how much he’s enjoying the work and goes home at the end of a shift feeling he’s done something worthwhile – not something he felt in many of his other jobs. 

So my conversation with my new colleague came at time when I know a lot of colleagues in fellow VODG providers are concerned about future recruitment challenges. Like many other VODG members Dimensions has far more staff vacancies than we would like and we are committed to making sure we get our recruitment right. It is really important to us that we involve the people we support and their families in making decisions and we that we recruit people with the right values. Skills can be learnt!

We know that supporting people with disabilities to have a life, to learn new skills, to try new experiences is fantastic – and so much better than other jobs out there with similar levels of pay. I think, as other leaders of providers do, that our staff should be paid more – a lot more. In part the National Living Wage is going to achieve that, but it is a double edged sword. For the majority of providers currently paying more than the National Minimum Wage, the introduction of the National Living Wage is going to make it increasingly hard to keep their levels of pay above the minimum. We necessarily have legally defined and very stringent recruitment processes – supermarkets don’t – the hospitality industry doesn’t. Why would a person wait 6 weeks to start earning as a support worker when they can start next week in a bar and earn just as much?

Ask any leader and they will tell you that recruiting people not right for providing care is the worst thing to get wrong. How do we encourage people to see social care as a career of choice? I’m really pleased that VODG is working with Skills for Care and developing some sector wide thinking about this fundamental challenge.


It is organisations like Dimensions that are really showing the way by being determined to adopt a values based approach to both recruiting new talent but also retaining this talent. 

For some employers this holistic approach takes time to bed in, but more and more employers are in agreement that for entry level workers this broadens the talent pool, and allows them to focus more on their potential.  

We have had many examples where adopting a values based approach to not only targeting, but recruiting new people, has yielded fruit from the most unlikely of candidates. People that with the right support and environment have gone on to become great care workers gaining qualifications, and because the right people were recruited in the first place they tend to stay and develop. 

The pressures to attract new people are enormous for the sector and employers are trying not only tried and tested methods, but also new ways to promote themselves as employers of choice.

This is not reliant upon any single remedy but more an attempt to explore all avenues.  It is not enough to just rely on placing a job advert and hoping that people come forward, and this is underlined in the range of good practice examples we have on our Finding and Keeping Workers tool. There is no quick fix as employers will testify and, as Steve points out, this is little consolation in the short term to the support worker who is working extra shifts, but in the longer term he will joined by workers who share the same of level of commitment.

The starting point for any recruitment process is about supporting our leaders and managers whom, for the main part - with or without support of HR Departments-  will be responsible for attracting and retaining good people who will want to do well in their jobs and again.

For some employers, the urgent need to constantly re-recruit is all consuming and they might say they don’t have time to develop and implement a new approach, and this is understandable, but the fact that the current system of recruitment and retention is constantly failing them suggests that new approaches are crucial for that very reason .

Skills for Care has been doing lot of work with DWP/JobCentre Plus to help upskill their advisors and it is working. The feedback has been a lot more positive from employers and the JCP staff as they are showing a raised awareness of the realities of working in the sector, and the importance of getting the right people into the right jobs.  Their view is that the more employers can do to support them to help fill vacancies, the better, and one way is to open their doors to possible new entrants.

Yes, these potential recruits will see how demanding it is, but they will find out from other members of staff just how rewarding it is too.  Employers who want to find quality new recruits can also join the I…Care Ambassadors scheme where experienced workers promote the realities and passions of working in the sector,for example, they go out to job fairs, school and colleges, communities to talk to people about what the job entails.  They dispel the myths and raise not only the profile of the sector, but of those employers that they represent.

Steve is also right to say our sector can have an image problem but the ball in our court to change that.  Organisations like Dimensions have brilliant stories to tell as do all the members of VODG. But, as a sector, we are not good at celebrating and sharing success as we could be, which is something that Skills for Care are encouraging by the development of real case studies on the Finding and Keeping Workers tool.

Things are changing slowly and this is about public perception and trying to ensure that we influence that.  We have seen some outstanding performances on Coronation Street from young actor Liam Bairstow, who has Down’s Syndrome, and this talented young man is one of an increasing number of actors with a disability on our screen.

We need to get the message out there that working with organisations who support people with disabilities are supporting people who achieve because they are talented first and foremost.

Yes, it is tough out there recruiting people, but it’s worth remembering that figures from our National Minimum Data Set for Social Care suggest that around 40% of social care employers have turnover rates less than 10% so we need to learn from them.

But ultimately it is well led organisations like Dimensions who are committed to treating their staff well, and supporting their learning and development needs, that will only not find the right people with the right values to care, but keep them too.


Sharon’s and my ideas can only go so far. We really want to hear from you. Please join the conversation on twitter using #lovesupportwork and make your views known.