Good carers are the key to winning over consumers in a deregulated Consumer Directed Care (CDC) environment. In the eyes of the consumer, they represent the provider in their competence, attitude and responsiveness to the consumers’ needs.
However, as the current home care workforce ages and the aged population expands, the industry will face a significant turnover in community care workers. It is therefore vital that providers develop their human resource and cultural capital to not just attract new talent, but empower those in their employment to build a sustainable competitive advantage.
The Aged Home Care space is alive with transformation activities, as providers pursue competitive advantages to ensure they remain viable after the Home Care market deregulates in February 2017. Transformations have largely focused on two areas: delivering choice and competitive prices. While these may help bring in consumers, they will never be as effective at keeping a consumer compared to the impact of a great carer.
In the home care service delivery chain, carers represent the largest, and often the lowest paid, group. Many are casual or part-time, with limited interaction with each other or the organisation. They work when rostered and as directed by the care coordinator, often with little say into how they deliver services.
There is an increased expectation on providers to customise services to consumer preferences and special needs. This could include various languages, disabilities, cultures, religions and lifestyle preferences. In addition, care planning is moving towards goal-directed planning, wellbeing and ‘doing with’ rather than ‘doing for’ approaches.
The role of the carer needs to expand into a mix of a companion, personal trainer, care specialist, cook, cleaner, pet groomer, driver, finance assistant and more. The carers must also understand and reflect customer service values, and have the skills and autonomy to be flexible while performing services for the consumer.
To the consumer, the carer is the ‘face’ of the provider. Their perception and loyalty to a provider is often linked to how much they like their carer. In the same way, the carer’s competence, attitude and response to any consumer request will directly impact the market view of that provider. In other words, the provider with the most likeable and capable carers is likely to retain and win more consumers post-February 2017.
McCrindle's research into aged care supply and demand shows that in March 2014, the median age for community direct care workers was 50 years, making it the sector with the highest median age of an employee in Australia. This implies that within the next 15 years, half of our current home care workers will retire. McCrindle estimates that for the next 10 years, providers across Australia need to recruit an additional 650 aged care workers every month to keep up with the ageing population, in addition to replacing the 668 retiring staff per month.
The good news is that providers can build an improved organisational and service culture using natural staff turnover. The bad news is that they will face fierce competition to recruit good staff.
Brokerage is one model that providers are exploring to deliver services. Some providers are brokering in higher-end services including nursing and allied health, whilst others have pure brokerage models, both to minimise employment costs and service delivery downtime, as well as offering potentially greater consumer choice and control.
While this strategy may deliver cost efficiencies, the fact that the provider does not own the key resource under this model may create risks around quality and reliability, with the potential to erode consumer loyalty and satisfaction. Conversely, it provides opportunities to be flexible in service delivery, better meeting individual needs. Each provider will need to identify where the balance in brokerage sits for them.
The opportunity exists for providers to build up their human resource and cultural capital to attract and retain passionate and competent carers. Diversity in skills and backgrounds must be targeted, and focus given to training and development. The disruptive Better Caring model shows how powerful a platform can be when a carer gets to showcase their skills, talents and interests; exercise choice in consumers they wish to work with; choose their own hours; receive direct feedback on performance; and be incentivised for it. This approach is also effective in attracting younger, energetic and more creative workforces.
Winning this war will require providers to take direct action to transform their workforces, such as the following:
Every carer on your team has the potential to be a long-term, committed and engaged employee. Give them the right training, leadership and opportunity and you may create a sustainable competitive advantage, as well as a great workplace and the service quality outcomes to remain a key market player.
Aged care providers must focus on their strengths and markets to be successful in a consumer-driven market environment.