Carelink: a project to recruit more carers in the Black Country (Sandwell, Walsall, Dudley, Wolverhampton and Stourbridge)

A project in the Midlands is retraining unemployed people to work in the care sector, writes Graham Hopkins

Project: Carelink is run by a partnership of seven organisations: Sandwell, Dudley, Wolverhampton and Walsall councills Sandwell and Stourbridge colleges and Performance Through People.

Working with: Unemployed people aged 24-plus.

Aims to: Fill entry-level vacancies in care offering training to local unemployed adults who may not have considered care as a career.

Location: West Midlands.

Funding: £2.1m over two years from the Black Country Learning Skills Council and European Social Fund



Work defines many people. It not only provides money but meaning. It has status, as well as providing it. Often, the first question people are asked is “what do you do?”. So work has an important place in our society and lives.

Therefore, being out of work can affect your income as well as cause mental poverty and a sense of hopelessness. David Grosvenor, 53, had been long-term unemployed, having previously spent 33 years in the industrial sector. Hope was packing its bags when an opportunity came along to transform his life: he was re-trained and swapped engineering for caring.

He did this with the help of Carelink, a scheme led by Sandwell Council to help unemployed people aged 24 or more find care work in the Black Country – the region north of Birmingham, comprising Sandwell, Dudley, Wolverhampton and Walsall council areas. Although the coal and iron industries that gave the region its name have all but vanished, the care industry also finds itself in a critical position.

“Research indicates that 70% of the care workforce will be retiring in the next five to 10 years,” says project recruitment manager Helen Peach. “And there’s competition from other service industries – for example, Tesco and McDonald’s – offering similar or better pay, prospects and flexibility for less demanding work.”

The scheme – which ran a strapline “get training, get working, get caring” – sought to sell care as a career by highlighting the emotional affinity, raised self-esteem and job satisfaction. “You might get the same money at Tesco but you don’t get the same buzz. Caring is not a job and that’s it, it’s a chance to help someone. So we looked for people who wanted to make a difference,” says Peach.

Indeed, one of the adverts asked: “Would you get a buzz like this in a call centre?” Jobcentres aside, advertising on buses was the highest source of response (of 14 methods) during the campaign, attracting more than a quarter of calls.

Peach says: “We also put good news stories into local press: so if someone had been unemployed for years and then got a job in care we issued a press release focusing on that, so people can see the benefits of working in care. You don’t necessarily need paid care experience as people often have transferable skills. For example, if someone has brought up five children – that, in itself, would show they have enough experience to transfer into care.”

The results have been outstanding. Within the first nine months 878 people had been attracted into the scheme. Of those, 356 took the four-week training induction to be care assistants, kitchen assistants, care managers, domestic assistants and home care assistants while 317 people moved into employment. Latest statistics show that the number of new people in care jobs has swelled to more than 500.

One is Rupa Rai, who found a job as a care assistant. “By getting my first job in the UK, it has helped me gain confidence and enhanced my feeling of being a part of the community,” she says. “This job has offered me an opportunity to learn many invaluable things in the care sector. I hope I can contribute something back to it as well. I am definitely a better person today from the day when I went to Carelink with low morale.”

With such success stories, it’s small wonder that Peach is pleased with the project’s progress. “It’s going really well, not just with the numbers in jobs but our retention rate is good too,” says Peach.

“The training our people are getting beforehand means that once they get a job they are sticking it out. And most of those who do leave their jobs remain in the care sector. There’s just a real buzz about the project because at last something is being done about the gap in the market. It sounds sad, really, but at the moment it’s a real joy to go into work.”

Lessons learned
 Make sure there is a need out there.
 Speak to the people who are going to be recruiting, care homes and home care agencies so they can tell you what they need.
 Have strong links with job centres.
 Make sure everyone has a good understanding of what’s involved – so that the people who come on board want to make a difference and not just to have a job.
 Target specific audiences. “We tried to attract men,” says Peach. “But we also tried to attract people from different cultures some care homes were looking for African-Caribbean people to cook the food that the residents would have been used to.”

Contact the author
Graham Hopkins

This article appeared in the 10 May issue under the headline “Part of the buzz”



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