Those outside the care sector may find it hard to believe that the biggest problem facing care providers right now is recruitment.

Care providers face difficulties attracting the right numbers – or the right calibre – of candidates to meet the increasing demands. They also struggle to hold onto them.

Recruitment has always proved difficult for care providers, but the problem is escalating.

Why is this? Firstly, social care has changed – there has been a dramatic cut in funding but also a move towards more personalised care, placing more demand on care providers.

Then there’s the increase in demand due to the ageing population – for the first time ever, Britain’s over-65s now outnumber people under the age of 16. And that is set to rise – currently there are 10 million people in the UK over 65, but in 20 years that number is projected to increase by more than 50 per cent – and by 2050 to have almost doubled.

Meeting demand

But with two million unemployed people in the UK, surely there is no lack of supply to meet the new demands? Not so, says care recruitment expert Neil Eastwood.

“Traditionally, care workers have been women; some 80% of the care workforce is female. But now young women have more job opportunities in other industries, such as retail and as more companies enter the sector to address the growing demand for care, competition for staff has intensified.

“Also, care workers – and the care sector as a whole – get slammed in the press. It’s not seen as attractive to people.”

So all this adds up to a sizable problem – and not just in the UK, but around the world.

For the last five years, Neil has been working with and learning from care providers in other countries.

“Anywhere with a developed social care market is suffering from the same problems, so there are valuable lessons for us here in the UK to learn.”

Psychometric testing

Neil points to the fact that more and more people in the UK are paying for their own private care; the US is well-accustomed to this type of direct customer – around 75% of care is funded by the person receiving care or their family.

“Funding their own care means people are fussier, they expect quality and have lots of choice; this leads to care providers focusing much more on who they recruit in order to protect their reputation and so grow their businesses.”

One of the most successful approaches in US care sector recruitment in the last 10 years, says Neil, is the use of psychometric testing.

“Personality and attitude assessments can help identify the best candidates, rather than just through traditional interviews, CRB (now known as DBS) checks and employer references, which are now mostly non-committal.

“Psychometric tests have been used in the US care sector since 2005 and have had a big impact on retention ­– over a two year research trial they reduced staff turnover in a home care business by half, from 45% to 23%.”

Targeting older workers

Neil declares a self-interest as his company, Sticky People, offers the same psychometric testing solution used in those US trials to care employers here. He acknowledges it is just one piece of the recruitment solution, but says it can have wider benefits.

“In the UK, we have seen positive comments from interviewers, clients and their families, as well as CQC inspectors, who increasingly want to see care providers put in place preventative measures.”

But the most recent – and perhaps the most surprising – successful approach to recruitment in the US is targeting older workers.

“The over 55s often display the type of characteristics most desired for carers – reliable, flexible and loyal, with ‘life skills’ and an empathy with the challenges of ageing,” explains Neil.

Equally, care work is attractive to older people, offering work that is social, valued in the community and a way of keeping active.

“The over 55s workforce in the UK is growing rapidly and more are planning to work past retirement age,” says Neil.

“Care recruitment is a real problem and is only going to get worse – attracting the older workforce is one of the few viable methods of matching supply and demand in the years ahead.”

Look out for an article from Neil on recruiting the over 55s in Care Management Matters magazine in October. Neil produced a free step-by-step guide to recruiting care workers from the lessons he learned from studying, in particular, the US market – you can find out more here.