On your bike: How to tackle care worker shortages in rural areas

Bernie King, our director of home care services tells us all about her new recruitment process, and how to tackle care worker shortages in rural areas.

"I have worked for a number of national care organisations, and recruiting care workers in rural areas is an issue that I’ve come across in each position. I know I’m not alone. I attend many forums and events with care providers, and the common consensus is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to attract people to this area of work.

The reality is that despite reassurances to the contrary, austerity measures have affected frontline services. Staff on low hourly rates are unable to run a car, and public transport in remote areas can be very poor. As an added problem, in places like Cumbria there are fewer young people, who tend to move out to urban areas where job opportunities are greater.

I’m just about to begin my fourth recruitment drive in a rural or extra rural location, and I’ve learnt to develop creative ways of attracting and retaining the right people for this profession. It’s not just about filling the roles – we need to make sure the people we’re recruiting are going to enjoy what they’re doing and deliver good care to clients.

A key area for us at the moment is west Cheshire. The first thing I did as part of our recruitment drive there was to approach Jobcentre plus and Standguide, a training and recruitment provider, and tell them we had 25 roles to fill. We had an open and frank discussion about how we could remove the barriers people face, while at the same time getting across the realities of a career in care.

Together, we’ve developed a two-level course.  First, jobseekers are invited to attend a two-hour workshop to explain the basics of a career in care, what it entails and how rewarding it can be. If, after the workshop, the jobseeker would like to progress to the next stage, they are asked to commit to a two-week training course that gives them core training in social care support work. Making Space commits to inviting all jobseekers who complete this course for interview.

For those who do want to progress, we identified three basic barriers: the cost of the essential disclosure and barring service (DBS) check, buying the required clothing (black trousers and black shoes), and transport to and from the place of work. We fund all DBS checks for applicants who apply via Jobcentre Plus, while they agreed to provide grants for the clothing and a bicycle.

Providing a bike doesn’t solve all the problems of rural recruitment, but it does help. Care workers who have been recruited this way are only allocated clients within a two- or three-mile radius, making sure we’re not placing unreasonable physical demands on them.

We’ve had great results. The campaign has only been running since 25 May but already 31 people have completed the training, and we’ve filled 17 positions.

We’re also targeting apprentices through colleges local to our areas of need. Students studying relevant topics are being invited to apply to work in evenings and weekends, our core times for providing care. In a previous campaign, I recruited 14 health and social care students from local colleges, all of whom remain in the sector or have gone on to university to study nursing or social work.

One of the key drivers for us as an organisation is continuity of care. Recruiting people in the local rural community to provide support to elderly neighbours is a valuable way to give the client familiarity with their care giver. We raise awareness of these roles by meeting community groups to tell them about our work and, for each member who goes on to work for us, we make a cash donation to community funds. Our recruitment strategy also includes local radio advertisements targeted at areas in which we are actively seeking staff.

The perceived problem with social care is that an endless succession of workers are in and out as quickly as possible, and there’s no quality or continuity of care. Identifying people who genuinely want to pursue social care as a career and are within a few minutes of their clients allows time for those all-important conversations that have a positive impact on people’s lives".

Interested in becoming a care worker? 

Please visit our careers page to see what opportunities we have available