The UK is facing a social care crisis, so what are recruitment agencies doing to alleviate it?
Skills shortages. Under-payment of staff by some employers. Necessity for huge investment.
They say it never rains but it pours, and that certainly seems the case for the social care sector, beleaguered by all the issues above in recent months and years.The role of social care recruitment agencies is, therefore, crucial. Their contribution to the sector though will be made all the more difficult in light of shortages, but they are needed more than ever.
What can recruiters in this industry do to help solve such wide-ranging problems?
Problems facing the social care sector
The difficulties in social care were apparent as far back as 2014 when it was predicted "the only certainty is that there are difficult times ahead."
Chief amongst the concerns was the feeling that, as the age of the UK's population increases along with their need for care, there would be a shortfall of the number of employees in this sector.
"The long term challenges of sustainability funding care in older age requires a strategic approach, and the government will set out its thinking on the options for the future financing of Social Care in a Green Paper later this year."
Now, we also have the uncertainty of Brexit looming large. One in 15 social care employees are from the EU and according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, their labour contribution swells the UK's economy by 0.6% each year.
Social care in particular relies on non-UK nationals. According to an article in the Guardian, almost one in five care workers are born outside the UK, 28% of which are born in the EU.
To compound the problem, there are a great number of European funding streams that help to fund employment of social care staff. There's a growing uncertainty about how accessible these will be in future years.
The picture is getting no clearer, with social care struggling with shortages and last year's Skills for Care report showed that although staff numbers are rising, so is the vacancy rate and turnover.
It all suggests employers are struggling to find people to fill roles in the sector.
Because of these concerns, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond committed additional grant funding of £2 billion to social care in England over the next three years in the Spring Budget.
"In total, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy named and shamed 361 businesses who underpaid workers."
£1 billion of this will be available in 2017 - 18.
The Chancellor said: "The long term challenges of sustainability funding care in older age requires a strategic approach, and the government will set out its thinking on the options for the future financing of Social Care in a Green Paper later this year."
Social care employers not paying National Living Wage
This isn't just a problem for social care; rather, it exists in many sectors.
As recently as February, the government clamped down on employers that failed to pay staff the national minimum wage and national living wage.
In total, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy named and shamed 361 businesses who underpaid workers.
Publication of these companies came just weeks after a £1.7 million national minimum and living wage awareness-raising campaign that encourages the lowest paid workers in the UK to check they are being paid the correct rates.
Margot James, Business Minister, said: "Every worker in the UK is entitled to at least the national minimum or living wage and this government will ensure they get it.
"That is why we have named and shamed more than 350 employers who failed to pay the legal minimum, sending the clear message to employers that minimum wage abuses will not go unpunished."
"It's concerning to hear of a turnover rate of staff that equates to approximately 339,000 leavers each year."
All told, 15,521 workers were underpaid a total of £995,684, with employers in the sectors of social care, retail, leisure and hospitality amongst those who were guilty of failing to pay at least the £7.20 national living wage for those aged 25 and over.
The problem hasn't been eradicated either. According to the government, there are more than 1,500 open cases that are being investigated by the HMRC.
The fines handed out highlight some of the problems that face social care recruitment agencies up and down the country; how to provide staff for employers and how to guarantee you aren't supplying candidates to employers who don't pay the national living wage.
How can social care recruiters respond to the challenges in the industry?In light of these problems, there is no doubt that recruitment agencies have an acute problem on their hands within social care.
How then, can they ensure that clients are able to fill vacancies, while at the same time, making sure candidates are sent to employers that pay fairly?
Provide a careful vetting process
Unfortunately, there will be unscrupulous employers located in many different industries and sectors. Some people will make a fast buck if the opportunity presents itself, while others will be slow to adapt to legislative changes.
"When we on board a new customer, we carry out an evaluation of that service."
Regardless of which one, the social care industry evidently has employers who have flouted the rules and the danger for recruiters is that they could send candidates to clients who don't pay the correct wages, therefore damaging a key relationship.
It obviously also leaves the recruiter in a real predicament: how to raise the issue with the client.
The solution is to make sure each and every potential client is thoroughly researched.
This level of due diligence will not only protect the candidates, but will also safeguard your own reputation because the agency will only deal with trustworthy employers.
1 Stop Healthcare is a recruitment agency in the social care industry. They haven't directly experienced employers underpaying staff but this may well be because of the measures they put in place to avoid finding themselves in a difficult position.
Clare Sanderson, Founder of the company, explains: "When we on board a new customer, we carry out an evaluation of that service which includes the sharing of information of job specifications and salaries, in order for us to ensure continuity between agency and permanent employees."
"Between 2012 / 13 and 2015 / 16, turnover rates have increased steadily, by 4.7 percentage points."
We know it seems like standard practice but in the pressurised world of recruitment, it would be very easy to forget about one or two of these processes if it meant securing the business of another employer.
However, this could be your undoing. Do everything you need to in order to be certain you're working with clients you trust.
Training and opportunities alleviate skills shortages
Working in social care is an in-demand job role. Since 2009, the number of jobs in adult social care has increased by 18%.
With that in mind, it's concerning to hear of a turnover rate of staff that equates to approximately 339,000 leavers each year.
Indeed, between 2012 / 13 and 2015 / 16, turnover rates have increased steadily, by 4.7 percentage points.
With the potential of these shortages - and demand for services increasing - action is needed.
It shouldn't necessarily have to come from recruitment agencies but obviously, their input is also vital given their knowledge of the industry.
"As recently as February, the government clamped down on employers that failed to pay staff the national minimum wage and national living wage."
In order to maintain a solid candidate base and attract people into the industry - something that is sorely needed - 1 Stop Healthcare has focused on training and development opportunities.
By being flexible, listening to the needs of candidates, and equipping them with skills that employers would find in permanent staff, it means a recruiter guarantees that the demand of clients can be met.
Over the last 12 months, the agency has set the precedent for what is needed in social care: the introduction of apprenticeship opportunities.
Its Stop Training Academy and Apprentice Scheme provides agency workers that have been approved by the Care Quality Commission and with assessors observing, it gives clients peace of mind that the candidate they receive will be of the required quality.
If agencies can tap into the staffing potential, it will help to ease the skills shortage.
ConclusionThere can be no doubting how difficult a time this is for the social care sector. By no means is it the only industry with its reputation damaged after the under-payment of some of its staff, but in light of the existing shortages, it only serves to further highlight the problems.
Can the situation be reversed? Yes, but there has to be a concerted, long term plan to ensure the industry has the requisite number of employees.
And in times like this, recruitment agencies will be vital in helping to ensure targets are met.
Written by John Train