Bluebird Care talks to workingmums.co.uk about how its care franchise is weathering the Covid crisis and about pay and progression in the social care sector.
In 2017 workingmums.co.uk’s Top Franchise Award for Innovation went to social care franchise Bluebird Care. The judges said that Bluebird Care presented a gold standard for other franchises and were leaders in their industry in terms of their investment in technology to support franchisees and the people they were caring for. They noted that the franchise was both innovative in a business and social sense and said its innovations could be adapted by franchisors across the board. We caught up with Bluebird Care’s national HQ and to a franchisee in South London to find out how they have coped over the last two years of the Covid pandemic which has placed such a strain on the care sector.
workingmums.co.uk: The last couple of years have been very challenging for people in social care. What has Bluebird Care’s experience been?
Bluebird: We are extremely proud of how franchises across the Bluebird Care network have responded to the pandemic. From our Support Centre to individual offices, Bluebird Care has continued to deliver exceptional care and support to our customers in a safe and secure manner. And, despite the immensely challenging circumstances, the Bluebird Care network has continued to grow, giving us the opportunity to deliver exceptional care to greater numbers of customers in their own homes.
Wms: How have you supported your staff on the frontline during Covid? Has your innovative use of technology helped to keep in touch and to boost mental health in very stressful situations?
Bluebird: Across the Bluebird Care network, many of our offices have utilised technologies to enhance and improve the support they offer to their team members. Ben Davie, Director of Bluebird Care Bromley, Lewisham & Southwark, and Sevenoaks, took the decision to keep all of their offices open throughout the pandemic to maintain a physical presence for their field staff, with 50% of the office team working from home on rotation. They conducted supervisions via video calls where possible, and put in place appropriate PPE and social distancing rules when staff needed to attend the office. This meant that they could keep real-world contact with their team members when required. Ben and his team also conducted regular virtual health and wellbeing sessions with all team members and arranged team meetings and social catch-ups via Zoom so the team could stay in touch.
Wms: Have you had to think creatively about the kind of work people can do, for instance, moving workers at high risk to more administrative tasks?
Bluebird: As a home care provider, our Care Assistants have been on the frontline helping some of the most vulnerable in our society stay safe from the virus. For those Care Assistants at high risk, we took no hesitation in taking appropriate steps to ensure they were adequately protected from Covid-19. Our offices also considered how to adapt their working environments to allow at-risk office staff to work safely. For example, at Ben Davie’s franchise in Bromley, two office-based team members were given the option of permanently working from home due to being at risk. This followed individual risk assessments which also evaluated how face-to-face/field responsibilities could be reallocated to appropriate team members.
Wms: How do you avoid burnout?
Bluebird: Our Care Assistants work exceptionally hard to deliver high-quality care. From these outstanding efforts, our offices are mindful of their team members being at risk of burn-out, particularly during the pandemic with the increased pressures this created. To respond to this, offices across our network optimise their rosters and keep flexible contingency plans in place for periods of increased pressure. Speaking of how his office protects team members from burnout, Ben Davie said: “We plan our rosters well in advance to give all of our team members time off. However, we understand that these plans can be subject to change, and this was particularly true during the pandemic. We keep our contingency plans under constant review, allowing us to be flexible according to customer needs while ensuring team members are given time to rest. To the credit of our office and care teams, we haven’t missed or cancelled any essential care visit during the pandemic.
Wms: How have you managed to negotiate the skills shortage that is being felt across the care sector?
Bluebird: Addressing staffing shortages and equipping our franchise owners with innovative recruitment solutions has been a central priority for Bluebird Care. We’ve taken a proactive approach to this challenge, and launched a dedicated careers website which we have further developed over the last 12 months which has led to a significant increase in visitors looking for roles and subsequently the volume of relevant applications has increased too. Our offices have also implemented innovative platforms to help attract, recruit and retain talented individuals.
In addition, we also ran our #It’sTimeToCare recruitment campaign across 2020 and 2021 and the social media element of the campaign alone generated a significant amount of interest and job applications. This campaign showcases the unique career journeys of our Care Assistants across the network to highlight their stories and why they love their work. As a result of this campaign and other initiatives, we’ve been able to generate some of the highest numbers of job applications to date for roles across our offices, despite the immense pressures facing the sector.
Wms: What are the benefits of a career in social care? How important are ensuring care workers have a range of career pathways available to them?
Bluebird: Reflecting on why social care is an attractive vocation for his team members in South East London, Ben Davie said: “Working in social care is extremely rewarding and a career that few others can match. Many of our customers live alone, receive few visitors and have limited or no ability to leave their house alone. Sometimes we’re the only person they’re seeing that day, and they’re incredibly grateful for everything we do for them. They need help with simple daily tasks that most of us take for granted. Seeing the impact of these small acts makes care an extremely heart-warming and rewarding career to pursue.
“Contrary to how it is often reported, pay in the care sector is comparable with that in retail/hospitality/catering, though the work is far more rewarding. We offer competitive rates of pay, well above the National Living Wage, and many offer both flexible and fixed-shift/salaried contracts, catering for both main household breadwinners as well as secondary earners, who are often looking for more bespoke working hours.
“Furthermore, the demand for Social Care is growing as the UK population ages, so there is also a great opportunity for career development in the sector. Those gaining the relevant skills now will be employable for years to come. At Bluebird Care Bromley, Lewisham & Southwark, and Sevenoaks, we’re regularly recruiting for a variety of positions and have a strong track record of promoting from within, creating a direct career pathway from frontline care work to back-office management roles – all the way to Registered Manager. For those for whom frontline care work will always be their passion and somewhere they want to remain, we have created “Mentor” roles so they’re able to put their experience to the most effective use in nurturing newer members of staff coming through, without losing that direct contact with our customers that inevitably comes with a move into more managerial roles.”
This experience of social care at Bluebird Care Bromley, Lewisham & Southwark, and Sevenoaks is mirrored across our Bluebird Care franchises, with rewarding careers on offer across our nationwide network.
Wms: What has the mandatory vaccination policy meant for staffing and how are you addressing this?
Bluebird: Vaccinations are a vital tool for the social care sector’s fight against Covid-19. At Bluebird Care we already actively encourage all of our staff to be fully vaccinated for the safety of themselves, our customers and their families. We also listen to any concerns our team members may have and have worked hard to positively persuade all to receive their vaccines as they become eligible.
Wms: What needs to change to encourage more people into the sector?
Bluebird: The social care sector is currently burdened by stigmas and an incorrect reputation that doesn’t portray the true value of the industry to wider society. Too often, potential candidates are put off by a perception of working in the sector requiring long hours, poor pay, a lack of career progression and a poor work-life balance.
Tackling this false image requires a concerted effort of communication, investment and a shift in the UK’s cultural attitude to caring for others. Indeed, more people could be encouraged to join the sector by highlighting the reality of caring for others and the diverse career journeys of current staff members. At Bluebird Care, we’re showcasing these stories from across our offices nationwide through the #It’sTimeToCare campaign. This includes people who joined the sector as retired publicans, school leavers, grandparents with time to spare and many other unique positions.
Pay is also increasing among many employers, as Care Assistants are increasingly recognised and appreciated for their heroic work in the community. Qualifications and training courses are also available, as well as structured progression for those wishing to develop long-term careers. What’s more, the opportunities to learn, develop, meet new people, build relationships and listen to fascinating life stories are unique characteristics of the sector that should be actively championed.