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Recruiting effectively in challenging times

Stephen Iles, Recruitment Partner, PJ Care

The coronavirus outbreak has presented recruitment challenges to care providers, with precautionary self-isolating causing sudden shortages of staff and the wider media portraying residential settings as less than desirable places to work.

But in these difficult times, how do you recruit effectively – and to your organisation’s values?  Stephen Iles, Recruitment Partner at neurological care specialists, PJ Care, responds.

Recruiting in the care sector is a challenging role.  Staff retention rates are often lower than providers would like, and there is a job to do in promoting care as a stimulating, inspiring and rewarding sector in which to begin or develop a career.  This is, of course, before the coronavirus outbreak which has seen the wider media portray care settings as hotspots of almost inevitable infection.

Against this backdrop it would be understandable if recruiters accepted any and all of those who responded to a job advert.  But without a strategic approach and a clear focus on the values your recruitment is based on, it is difficult to build a cohesive, liked-minded team that ultimately offer the best standards of care.

Recruiting in a crisis

The coronavirus pandemic impacted on PJ Care in ways that will be familiar to care providers across the country.  While many preparations were in place to protect both residents and staff in terms of procedures and PPE, we couldn’t anticipate the almost overnight temporary loss of 30% of our staff to precautionary self-isolation.

Alongside the ongoing need to recruit high quality nursing staff, we had to fill more than 70 care, housekeeping and catering positions.  And quickly.

In this situation, it would have been easy to recruit on a ‘first come, first served’ basis to fill positions as fast as possible to make sure there were enough hands to provide care, especially as this was, we hoped, a short-term problem.

However, as every provider knows, standards of care are paramount.  And at PJ Care, our client group is especially vulnerable as they are living with a range of degenerative neurological conditions and acquired brain injuries.

Our plan was to establish a ‘conveyor belt’ of staff to manage the recruitment process.  From the initial adverts to the final interviews, PJ Care’s values – care, commitment and compassion – were central, even for these short term, often part-time roles.

One key recruitment tool was social media.  An ad campaign on Facebook and Instagram was launched to attract those who’d been furloughed or lost their positions due to the lockdown.  We targeted audiences close to our care centres so being able to drive didn’t exclude applicants.

Our head of quality and compliance, Ginny Smith, could step out of her role without impacting on day to day operations and during a two-week period, she interviewed more than 140 people.

As well as being available, Ginny was ideal because she lives PJ Care’s values.  She knew the scenarios that would reveal candidates’ approach and she was unafraid of saying ‘no’ to many despite their experience.

Our care centres in Peterborough and Milton Keynes were staffed during the height of the pandemic by a magician, financial director, hairdresser, personal trainer, travel consultant, a taxi driver and more because their values aligned with ours.  They had caring experience as parents or carers for older relatives, and while many have now returned to their original jobs, some don’t want to leave us.  We chose well.

Develop your branding

Attracting good quality staff to your organisation is more difficult if they are not aware of it or don’t know much about it.

During this recruitment period, we were lucky in that we already had a public relations campaign underway.  Social media, together with print and broadcast media, helped build a picture of PJ Care and its values to local audiences, and we know that a number of applicants came to us as a result.

Values-based recruitment builds retention

In its most recent report in October 2019, Skills for Care found staff turnover among care workers to be close to 40%.  Recruiting on values builds a strong team who are all working towards the same goal and this cohesiveness is key in retaining staff.

And this is where having professional recruiters in-house pays dividends.  Attracting and selecting the right people for the right job needs specialist skills, ones that HR departments don’t always have.

We have learned a great deal from our experience at the start of the pandemic.  We are putting those learnings into action in preparation for the impact a rise in infections in the community is already starting to have.


Edel Harris





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