Amrit Dhaliwal, Founder and Chief Executive at home care franchiser Walfinch, shares his thoughts on why 2024 could be a favourable one for care workers.
In 2024, the day of the carer will dawn. Employers who have built their business models on the assumption that cheap labour will always be available will be forced by the market to improve pay, working conditions, recruitment and retention. The whole sector will benefit.
The pool of easily-recruited care talent is almost drained away, and government threats to restrict immigration still further – whether serious or an election tactic – will not help. There were still 152,000 vacancies in 2022-23 according to Skills for Care.
The whole care sector must wake up to a new world, where candidates hold the power, rather than employers.
Care providers will be scrambling to boost their recruitment and retention skills, which will be new to many. Without higher and faster recruitment, and better retention of the carers they already have, providers will be short staffed, and many existing carers will leave, burnt out by increasing work pressures.
As a result, more providers will be using recruitment experts, either external or in-house, who understand the special requirements of the care sector. Providers will learn more about what works in recruitment now. Putting a basic ad on the big internet recruitment sites will no longer work.
Clever care companies will use more varied recruitment methods, such as in-house recommendation schemes with financial rewards that really motivate carers to recommend friends, and staging recruitment events in local venues. Will we see widespread ‘golden hellos’ for carers?
Meanwhile, pay for carers will improve. Providers who fail to address this could go under. The National Living Wage will rise by 9.8% to £11.44, an increase of £1.02 an hour, but relying on basic wages to attract care staff is no longer enough. Providers who offer the minimum legal pay will be ignored by candidates, so care homes and home care providers must change their financial models to increase pay rates.
Working conditions and benefits will improve – again, there’s no choice. In home care, pay for travelling time will no longer be a perk. Carers will expect it. Employers will increasingly find ways to build better employment packages, perhaps including benefits like car loans or retail discount cards for carers.
In 2024 more tech suppliers will target us with messages claiming their care technology will solve all our problems – but we must be careful. Seizing on these as a way to increase clients while ignoring service quality can be a false economy. Technology can be a huge benefit, but it cannot replace human carers, and in a sector where reputation and word-of-mouth are vital, the wrong tech solutions could cost us clients. More providers will be appointing in-house or external care technology experts to evaluate the real value of caretech solutions.
Meanwhile, providers will increasingly focus on better-paying private contracts, rather than taking on public sector work. The latter is easier to get but can be uneconomic to service. Some providers may use the profits made on private-client contracts to cross-subsidise public sector work. This shows the genuine caring aims of the care sector, but economically it means sacrificing parts of their own incomes.
In 2024 I hope that providers increasingly make this ‘mixed economy’ work successfully.
I remain optimistic about the future of the care sector – but providers of all types must increasingly co-operate in order to lobby the government to treat us and our clients fairly. It’s an election year, so now is our best chance.