Lessons from the US

by Neil 12 October 2014 0

Filling frontline care vacancies is getting harder. Last year the Department for Work and Pensions warned that Britain is “running out of workers”. An estimated 13.5 million job vacancies will need to be filled over the next ten years, but only 7 million young people are projected to leave education over that time.

This situation is not limited to the UK. Most nations with developed social care markets are also feeling the effects of an ageing population and insufficient labour supply and are starting to adapt their recruitment efforts in response. For example, in the United States, care providers are seeing success by targeting a more mature pool of potential care staff.

The over 55 year old workforce in the US is rapidly increasing, growing from less than 12% of all workers in 1992 to almost 26% by 2022.

Older workers are an appealing demographic because this cohort commonly displays characteristics of flexibility, loyalty, reliability, ‘life skills’ and an empathy with the challenges of ageing.

Employment in the care sector often appeals to over 55s because it offers low barriers to entry and flexible work patterns. Older US workers have cited less perceived age discrimination displayed by care employers than when applying for an office-based, hospitality or retail role.

US care providers are finding that a different approach is required to attract this group. They have had most success when their recruitment messages are focussed on aligning the benefits of working in care to the perceived goals of older workers such as: keeping physically active, doing something socially ‘good’, enabling them to feel valued and useful and allowing them to build meaningful relationships. Word of mouth recruitment within the over 55 cohort is also seen as particularly effective, especially if an enthusiastic older team member is willing to spend time on community outreach.

Employers who have succeeded in bolstering their workforce from the over 55’s typically offer more flexibility and expect to have a proportionally larger workforce working fewer hours. With a greater choice of available staff they can allow older workers to choose when they work and what they do. They also report that efforts to match the preferences of the worker to the client and drawing out shared experiences can quickly build strong bonds between the carer and their clients, which seems to help retention.

Whilst no single intervention can address the workforce challenges facing UK social care, with nearly 75% of people over 55 in the UK now planning to work past state pension age, this international experience highlights an opportunity that UK care providers here could well benefit from.

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