Why older workers are the answer to social care’s recruitment crisis

New figures from the Office of National Statistics show that there are 866,000 potential workers between aged between 50 to 64 years old, just under half of whom have caring experience, whether for a parent or a grandchild. Could encouraging these people into the care workforce ease the recruitment crisis the sector is currently experiencing?

“There is no doubt that older people are much more suited to frontline care roles than they often think – if, indeed, they have any awareness of care as an appealing part-time, local and flexible work option at all”, said Neil Eastwood, founder of Sticky People.

He explained that older people have more life experience, often more empathy and have put down roots in their community. They also are more likely to want to ‘give back’ and stay active, and to stave off loneliness due to a shrinking social circle once they retire.

HC-One head of employee relations Lynne Fraser also finds that care workers within this age group tend to stay for longer, offering the provider more stability, particularly if they are offered flexible hours or a position with the care worker ‘bank’. “Reducing hours is attractive at that age”, Fraser explains, a sentiment that is echoed by Four Seasons Health Care people director Louise Cherry. She says: “This often suits more mature people who are coming back into nursing, or who want to work around family commitments.”

She believes the older workforce has the potential to help fill the 40,000 registered nurse vacancies in NHS England, which equates to a vacancy rate of almost 12 per cent (excluding the independent sector and other parts of the UK). According to the Skills for Care National Minimum Dataset from December, 9.1 per cent of care roles in adult social care are vacant, equating to an average of approximately 70,000 vacancies at any one time

Taken as a demographic group, the over-50s represent a high potential and under-tapped market for care recruiters, although providers may need to support their employment with contingency planning: informal carers can experience a home emergency meaning they are unavailable for their shift.

Engaging men
Sticky People’s Eastwood believes men may present a particular challenge: as a general rule, men (all) are more likely to work in the support and outreach sector (accounting for one in four of the workforce) than they are as a care worker (16 per cent of the workforce)[1]. Currently, many men in care roles are migrants and often younger, so the likely proportion of UK-born male aged over 50 in a residential care setting will be very small, he says, especially since care homes have the youngest overall profile of all of adult social care.

However, providers feel that older men have a special place in the care home workforce particularly by older male residents who can crave male company and more masculine wellbeing activities. Older male carers can also become excellent mentors and role models to younger staff. Eastwood believes that the best way to recruit them would be word of mouth through an employee referral scheme or community outreach at places where men gather such as football grounds and allotments. Volunteering at a care home could also help overcome the preconception that it was ‘women’s work’.

Care England, which represents independent care providers, says looking outside the box for potential care workers is well worthwhile. Its chief executive Professor Martin Green says: “One of the things we need to do is get more diversity in the workforce. We can’t target the same groups to come into social care. We need to think creatively and not just look at the usual suspects.”

Professor Green said employers might be able to engage with people who are not economically active and the sector needed to identify the things that were blocking these people from entering the sector. “It is quite a challenge but we should work with employment services and HR directors on this”, he added

[1] Skills for Care report. State of the adult social care workforce 2018

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