The recruitment of caregivers raises challenges across Europe. Monica Moldovan, the coordinator of HEROES Project, discussed the challenges and ways to overcome them with the representative of the European Commission on the matter, Ms. Katarina IVANKOVIC-KNEZEVIC – Director for Social Rights and Inclusion (DG EMPL).
- In your opinion, what are the challenges facing the recruitment of long-term care personnel (nurses, personal aides, helpers, etc.) in the EU?
First of all, let me highlight the job creation potential of the long-term care sector (LTC), driven in particular by an ageing population. In order to keep the current level of LTC provision, many countries will have to expand the LTC workforce in the coming decades. The Commissions’ projections show that more than 1.6 million LTC workers would be needed by 2050 to keep LTC coverage at the same level.
The main reason for labour shortages reported in the sector are low wages and difficult working conditions. In 2018, the average wages for social services workers, who are mainly people working in the LTC sector, were 21% lower than the average national hourly earnings.
Difficult working conditions further contribute to lowering the attractiveness of the sector. For instance, evening, night or weekend shifts are common in the LTC sector. The nature of the contracts is also challenging for many workers as 42% of them work part-time unwillingly. Many of them cannot actually find a full-time job in the sector – it is the case for 30% of LTC workers in home care and for 20% of workers in residential care. Finally, a third of long-term care workers are exposed to adverse social behaviour, which can go as far as verbal and physical. As a result, many are at risk of experiencing mental health issues
2. What policies and measures to overcome the challenges and improve the recruitment of care personnel are considered by the European Commission?
Given different situations and starting-points in the Member States, a one-size fits all approach will not work, and therefore policy responses will vary on a case by case basis. Nevertheless, many Member States share common recruitment challenges.
Given that wages in the LTC sector are comparatively low in almost all Member States, andtaking into account the challenging tasks and working conditions, as well as the societal value of LTC, increasing wages in the LTC sector is likely to contribute to attracting and retaining LTC workers.
To make the LTC profession more attractive, it is also important to reinforce professional standards offering career prospects to care workers. Better initial and continuous education and training are needed to up-skill current and future LTC workers. Upskilling, reskilling, skills validation, the use of micro-credentials and individual learning accounts as well as information and guidance services can support career pathways into the LTC professions.
Proactive recruitment policies to increase the pool of potential LTC workers can also be explored, in particular to attract young people to care professions, including by designing and improving initial and continuous education and training and by building career pathways in the care sector. Such policies could also include retraining of workers in other sectors who are at risk of redundancy, recognition and validation of skills and qualifications of informal carers and recruitment of third country nationals.
While most of the competences in this area lie with the Member States, the Commission provides dedicated support, including funding and technical assistance for reforms in this area, mutual learning activities, better data and evidence as well as monitoring. The EU legislation on occupational health and safety, labour law, such as the Working Time Directive, the Work-Life Balance Directive applies to and protects all EU workers, including those in the long-term care sector.
This autumn, the Commission will present the European Care Strategy to address challenges of both carers and care receivers, from childcare to long-term care. The strategy will set a framework for policy reforms to guide the development of sustainable long-term care that ensures better and more affordable access to quality services for all. It will also contribute to improve the situation of long-term care workers. The Strategy will be accompanied by a proposal for a Council Recommendation on long-term care.
3. There are significant gaps of care personnel across EU countries, leading certain countries (Romania included) to become providers of trained nurses and caregivers while others (e.g. Austria, Switzerland, etc) being receivers. What is your position regarding labour migration?
Healthcare and long-term care professions are indeed among the occupations with frequently identified shortage. Intra-EU labour mobility can offer some support in this regard. It is, however, important to put this into proportion: about 3.4% (or 7 million out of 203 million) of the total labour force in the EU is provided by EU citizens who live outside their country of nationality. In addition to these, there are also commuters and posted workers.
Statistics show that labour mobility in the area of human health is comparable with that in other sectors. We do not see that workers in healthcare and long-term care are more mobile than other workers. Subsequently the problem is not labour mobility but the general labour shortages. The most important tools to change this situation are better working conditions for those working in the sector.
It would be a mistake to make labour mobility responsible for the skills shortages, most of them are of a structural nature. This also means that labour mobility on its own will not be sufficient to resolve structural problems in the destination countries
4. How do you see the role of technology in improving recruitment practices in the long-term care industry?
The digital transition offers multiple advantages, including for workers in the long-term care sector. While technology cannot replace the human interaction that lies at the heart of care work, innovative digital solutions can improve access to high-quality affordable care services and foster independent living.
Automation and digitalisation can enhance labour productivity in this sector. Technology can take over certain tasks of LTC workers and support their daily work, by facilitating case management, lifting patients, providing electronic documentation, and monitoring of home care recipients, while respecting data protection rights of the users. Travelling costs in terms of finances and time may be reduced through telecare options and remote communication with users from their homes.
Technology can also facilitate the recruitment, retention and training of care workers. Studies show that worker retention improves when there is a better client-to-worker matching, more control over shift scheduling, and more efficient staffing. Regarding recruitment, the predictive analytics can successfully identify candidates who are the best suited for a career in the care sector. Recruitment algorithms, as a way to carry out data analysis for values-based recruitment, manage to identify candidates who are likely to enjoy becoming and remaining care workers.
5. How do you think the HEROES Project can contribute to solving recruitment challenges?
I am pleased to see initiatives that reflect the smart use of digital technologies for recruitment purposes. Digital platforms can facilitate the recruitment of caregivers in a fast and cost-effective way – the care sector has a potential to evolve and to implement innovative digital solutions. The model used by this project provides an interesting example of how the long-term care sector can benefit from the knowledge and experience of the community, including other carers and care receivers. It can also encourage volunteers to get engaged at the community level. Supporting the voice of the care receivers and their families can improve the quality of the provided care services. At the end of the day, this is about bringing people together and allowing everyone to thrive. I hope that we will continue seeing many inspiring projects in this regard!