Care industry recruitment and retention: challenges and opportunities

We all know that care is a people intensive sector and staffing is widely considered to be the biggest challenge facing the sector right now. According to a report from Skills for Care, England’s social care workforce will need to increase by 490,000 (29%) by 2035 to about 2.16 million jobs, to deal with the number of people who will be aged 65 or older by then. However, given current rates of growth, it will be facing a shortfall of nearly 300,000 jobs.

Key challenges

  • COVID-19: it will come as no surprise that the pandemic had a significant impact on the sector and those working in it. Restrictions on the number of care settings individuals could work in, requirements of self-isolation, and mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for care workers have all exasperated this.
  • Brexit: we all know that the UK care sector has been reliant on European workers for decades but changes to migration restrictions have seen people return to their native countries. This trend was further accelerated by the pandemic.
  • Talent onboarding and integration: many care businesses we’re speaking to are bringing in staff from abroad under a sponsor licence. This has been done by some for years but is now becoming the norm across the industry. However, this brings additional challenges in terms of helping source accommodation (some operators are buying and/or renting & sub-letting) and helping such employees integrate into the community.

Opportunities

  • Training: given all the above challenges, the need to train new staff and upskill existing colleagues has never been greater. Care homes and groups that invest in their people and homes will not only see the benefits in terms of staff retention and recruitment but will also likely see better outcomes in terms of resident satisfaction and CQC ratings.
  • Professional development: care businesses that are able to acquire and merge with other operators, and provide a clear career pathway for their teams, will have a competitive advantage over their peers. As a growth lender, we’re able to provide the capital to pursue M&A opportunities.
  • Apprenticeships: these can be a great way to bring new young talent into the sector and provide a fast progression route for ambitious individuals who want to move up and develop quickly. There are also a range of work-based learning programmes available at all levels and with the apprenticeship levy, care businesses can claim back on most of the costs.
  • Pay and benefits: given where inflation levels are at, care workers will be hoping for decent pay rises this year to manage the increasing cost of living. The care businesses that are able to provide these and/or other benefits, will have a competitive advantage and the ability to recruit and retain staff.

Higher living and healthcare standards are resulting in a greater life expectancy, which in turn, is amplifying the need for more investment into care home and retirement living businesses to meet future demand. That is why we’re proud to have lent over £215M to the sector in the last few years.

Over the next 12-18 months, the sector will face a number of challenges, but we remain committed to supporting it and ensuring care home and retirement living owners and operators have the capital they need to succeed regardless of what direction the economy goes in. If anything, we see this as an opportunity to step up to the plate and support these businesses at a time when other banks are pulling back.

By Stewart Haworth, Director of Debt Finance at OakNorth Bank

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