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An ageing workforce and a lack of recruits is putting social care under pressure. Adrian O'Dowd reports on innovati...
An ageing workforce and a lack of recruits is putting social care under pressure. Adrian O'Dowd reports on innovative measures to find future staff

Demand for social workers and social care staff is high but supply is low. Although there are more than one million people in the social care workforce in England alone - a third of them working for councils - more are needed to meet the government's aspirations for greater collaboration between health and social care as set out in the recent white paper Our health, our care, our say. And children's social workers are needed to satisfy the demands of the Children Act.

Since the latest phase of a national social care recruitment campaign started in February, there have been over 60,000 enquiries to the Department of Health's social care careers team. But securing new people isn't easy and in the first comprehensive report on social care in England, published last December, the Commission for Social Care Inspection said services continue to struggle.

Here's what councils are doing to make sure they have the workers they need:

1 Give potential recruits a taster of social care

Getting people interested in working in social care is the first step and can lead to recruiting permanent staff. Brighton & Hove City Council launched its Care Crew in 2002 - a part-time casual workforce of 200 staff working as and when they are required.

Members are recruited as care officers or home care support workers, operating in various settings. They are given an induction week consisting of mandatory training such as lifting and handling techniques, and first aid. They then shadow full-time staff before they start working.

People work anything from one shift a fortnight up to the maximum 48-hour working week.

Kieron Ives, relief staff co-ordinator at the council, says: 'It's a cost-effective way of getting people interested in care work and assisting with recruitment of permanent staff.

'We need them to cover for things like annual leave, sickness and training. People join the crew and then after a while some of them apply to go on to permanent contracted posts. It's a good way in for people.'

At the first recruitment day, almost 200 people attended and, of those, 40 started working for the council.

'The scheme attracts a very different range of people - you get a lot of students fitting it around their college work, people returning to work who have not had a job for a number of years, and people who have never done care work before.

'Going down this route has also helped us save a lot of money because otherwise, we would have had to employ agency staff,' adds Mr Ives.

2 Simplify the recruitment process

Streamlining the recruitment process can help boost the social care workforce.

Nottinghamshire CC's workforce planning officer in social services, Adrian McKiernan, says: 'It's quite a tight labour market and we have direct competition from rival employers such as supermarkets.'

The authority held a recruitment open day at a local care home last March. People had the chance to visit the home, talk to staff and find out more about the job.

The effort paid off as 21 people later sent in job applications and eight new members of staff were appointed.

Mr McKiernan has now recommended to the authority's management that they make greater use of open days. 'We are looking at how we can use open days to cut through the first part of the process - to be able to say to people 'come along and talk to staff, we can give you an application form, you can complete it and we will be able to shortlist on the day'.'

Nottinghamshire has also developed a strong visual brand for social services that is used on all promotional and display materials.

3 Get a celebrity to help spread the word

Breaking down the negative stereotypes associated with social care while working to raise its profile can help boost interest in choosing the profession as a career path, according to Westminster City Council.

Nationwide television swung its spotlight on the work of social care staff recently when the council held a Care for a Day event in March. The day was part of the government's social care recruitment campaign and the council hosted the visit together with Westminster Carers Services, a charity that helps to provide relief for carers of dependent people.

GMTV presenter and former tennis star Andrew Castle shadowed a social care worker for the day and it proved to be a success, says Phillip Berechree, acting assistant director for strategy and performance at the council.

'It's about trying to break down people's stereotypes of what the career might be,'

he explains.

'Often people do not have a good sense of what the job is and we were able to give the TV presenter some very concrete experience about the social care profession.

'It was giving a impression of what it's like to have a hands-on role. It was very much an eye-opener for people, seeing the big range of jobs that are undertaken.'

Recruitment is difficult but improving, he adds: 'Things have got better in the last two years for qualified social workers but we are starting to get pressures around children's social workers.

'We have a range of other programmes to try and encourage people into the social care profession,' he says. 'For example, we have a scheme that is encouraging people from the more disadvantaged parts of the borough by giving them sponsored training and work experience in social care, working with our partner agencies.'

4 Target young workers

Liverpool City Council looks for potential social care recruits among young adults who had previously used the service, as part of a wider drive to get younger people working throughout the authority.

One scheme offered by the council is Liverpool Get Set, a 12-month training programme for 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in any other kind of education, employment or training.

The teenagers receive work experience in different local authority settings, and training in personal development, employability, and skills (in the form of an NVQ).

'At any one time we have a significant number of places that are taken by care leavers, something around 25%,' says Tina Short, the council's head of diversity and social inclusion. Last year's 30 places offered are likely to be expanded to 50 this year.

Of all the programmes run by the council that are aimed at people who were in care, about half stay on and get a job with the authority and half go on to employment elsewhere. The council also prioritises requests for work experience from school children who are in care.

5 Educate the public

Face-to-face meetings with the public to explain exactly what is involved in social care have paid off for Newcastle City Council.

The authority ran a one-stop shop recruitment open day last September and had a large response. The event advertised various posts including care at home workers, care officers, and senior workers. Over 350 people attended and had access to staff to get information and then, if they wanted, help in completing an application. Of those attending, 320 applications for jobs were filled out and submitted. This has since led to 33 people being hired.

Phyllis James, care at home resource manager within the council's social services directorate, says: 'Our experience was that at all levels, we were having real difficulties recruiting staff. We were getting fewer and fewer applications.'

There was also a feeling the quality of applications was poor because people were not putting down all their relevant experience such as being an informal and unpaid carer for a family member.

'We felt that by doing it in this way, we would reach people that previously weren't being reached. We have filled about 33 posts of 60 that were available. We have filled more posts at any one time than we have ever done,' says Ms James.

'The response was much bigger than we anticipated. Also, we've been able to attract young people into our service - something which has been really difficult in the past.'

Ms James says it is likely the experience will be repeated on a grander scale and for other areas within the council.

Find out more

Department of Health's social care website

Care Crew team at Brighton & Hove City Council: 01273 291603

Phyllis James, resource manager, Care At Home, Newcastle City Council: 0191 278 2898

Tina Short, head of diversity and social inclusion, Liverpool City Council: 0151 233 6322

Our Health, our care, our say

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