Feedback from applicants to care – what can we learn in a changing recruitment and retention market?

Written by Dave Beesley, Social Care Talent Director at Cohesion.

As recruitment and retention in social care has become even harder, understanding how candidate behaviour continues to adapt and change is a useful exercise for anyone hiring and managing teams. We have worked our way through a global pandemic and we are experiencing a cost-of-living crisis in the UK – impacting on career decisions across all sectors.

At Cohesion, we engage with applicants to care organisations of all sizes and settings. Applicants to our recruitment processes, as well as directly to other care providers, have had the opportunity for their voices heard by being invited to take part in a recruitment in care survey. Since 2018 we have received thousands of responses – so, what can we learn?

Constant candidate behaviour

It’s useful to look at where we’ve seen little change, as this is telling us what tends to stay constant despite external market factors.

  1. People working in care feel valued mostly by the people they care for and support. Those to respond to the survey told us that above all else, they feel mostly valued by the people they care for and support – more so than from their employer.
  2. Most candidates have experience. 60% of survey respondents have experience of delivering care and support – including personal experience of caring for family members or friends.
  3. Most candidates are applying within social care. Candidates are mostly only applying for jobs within social care (60% of respondents) but where they are looking elsewhere it is mostly in our sister sector; healthcare (33% of respondents in 2022 were applying in healthcare too).
  4. Job satisfaction needs must be met & training and development is important. The top three features important to candidates when searching for a job are ‘job satisfaction’, ‘training and development opportunities’, and ‘good work/life balance’. Interestingly the number of respondents selecting good work life balance has not massively changed since the pandemic – it is a consistently important factor when job seeking.
  5. Clear job adverts are key. The most important tool in the recruitment process is a clear advert and job description, with almost a third of respondents choosing this option from a range of features when asked. This is followed by ease of contact with a recruitment team by phone and email.
  6. Wider recognition and understanding of the job are needed. According to respondents, improving the perception of social care would be helped by wider recognition of the important roles played by carers (25% of respondents) and a greater understanding of what the job involves (25% of respondents).

Changing candidate behaviour

The survey results highlight several changes since its launch in 2018.

  1. Greater value felt from employers. While candidates feel valued mostly by the people cared for, positively we have seen an increase in the value felt by respondents from their employers (27% in 2022 up from 22% in 2018).
  2. Less hesitancy to apply because of perception of low pay. Although consistently one of the top reasons for hesitancy when applying, we have seen a decrease in the number of respondents being put off because of the perception that entry level roles offer low pay (10% in 2022 from 15% in 2018). Negative media coverage also plays its part when looking at the overall primary concern.
  3. There was greater out of sector interest during the pandemic but is it reversing? As a sector, we ‘borrowed’ workers from many sectors during the pandemic and we know many have now returned. We received an increase in responses from candidates without prior experience of working in care in 2020 and 2021, but this is now reducing (51% of responses held experience in 2022 compared to 36% in 2020).
  4. Less applicants are applying to retail. Social care often competes with supermarkets and other retailers. These settings have notably offered higher entry level pay rates above minimum rates over recent years, and do not require the level of employment compliance seen in care. Where respondents are applying to other sectors as well as social care, there seems to be less respondents applying to retail than previously found (13% in 2022 compared to 23% in 2018).
  5. Artificial Intelligence is making its mark. In a world of digitalisation and social media, candidates are keeping up with trends (let’s not forget care recognises technology advancement in operational delivery). The number of respondents telling us that being able to talk via chatbots and other technologies usually supported by AI, has doubled! (14% in 2022 compared to 7% in 2018). Phone calls and emails are still important according to the results – so thankfully we’re not ready to replace our human driven process with robots!
  6. We can learn from a shift in demographics. Less than 10% of the adult social care workforce is under 25 and we report higher employment from females (Skills for Care Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set). Looking at our survey where candidates have opted in to sharing demographic information, there has been an increase in responses from 26-35 year old females in care during 2022, but a declining number of 19 – 25 year olds. We’re slowly seeing a rise in responses from males (26% in 2022 compared to 20% in 2018) and highest increases by 36 – 45 year old males. The primary concern for this target group is that care jobs are seen as an unskilled job with poor prospects.


  1. Look after experienced and valued team members. If we’re to meet demand in the years to come, we must continue recruiting out of sector – but not at the expense of neglecting our experienced employees. Good team members will apply elsewhere – and 60%, according to our survey, will stay within care.
  2. Stand out from the crowd. Most providers are recruiting on an ongoing basis so work out what makes you, you. Standard terms and conditions offered by everyone are no longer acceptable benefits. Focus your messaging on the demographic you want to target – what do they want to hear from you and how can you tell them about it louder than the care provider on the next street (or healthcare provider)? Be flexible when it comes to recruiting younger workers.
  3. Measure how satisfied team members are and listen to stay needs. Conduct stay interviews which specifically ask what is going to make them carry on working for you and what it would take to make them jump ship (conduct exit and retention interviews too). As a sector, we must keep ensuring our teams feel valued by us as employers – as well as the people they care for and support.
  4. Be an applicant. Would you apply to your advert? Would you understand the job and be inspired? There is an art to writing adverts – so work with experts if you don’t know how and keep refreshing your content. Let’s all help to share the good work frontline care and support team members do in our messaging. Talk to candidates about job satisfaction, training and development, and work life balance. You do offer all three, right?
  5. Influence where you have control. We can’t always increase pay rates and change media coverage – but we can better our learning and development offering. Use tools such as Care Character to understand the qualities of new team members and identify how early L&D should be focussed.
  6. Don’t be afraid of technology. New technology such as ‘ChatGPT’ might not be able to manage your recruitment processes (yet?!) – but Artificial Intelligence can help today. Carefully crafted chatbots can support your candidates to arrange interviews with you out of hours, and support with very early screening decisions. Get it right and you will enable better communication within your processes whilst not losing the human touch.

In four years of our survey, candidate behaviour has both evolved and remained constant. It’s more important than ever to be in tune with your audiences, proactively seeking out their needs and meeting them. Those getting this right are winning in the race for the very best – and let’s be honest, scarce talent that our market can offer right now. Do recruitment and get retention right – that is a necessity.

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