William Britton, founder of AutonoMe, discusses how we must attempt to draw more people into the caring industry by re-booting the core skills required
Unemployment is rising fast in the UK as COVID takes its effect on the economy. The number of people on British employers’ payrolls fell by 600,000 in April and May. Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £2 billion Kickstart programme to tackle youth unemployment, using government funds to pay the national minimum wage to 16-24-year-olds for 25 hours a week. These two facts stand opposite the problem that’s faced the care industry for several years – a lack of people to fill much-needed jobs. The most recent Skills for Care report in Oct 19 identified 122,000 care vacancies. Could changing the core skills of carers to be more appetising to young people help solve the problem?
Building a new and lasting relationship with vulnerable people is a role responsibility for many carers, and it can be challenging. Teens and young adults whose conditions require them to have support and guidance in their home environment need trust, practical help and kindness to gain what they need – independence. They also need, and expect, to be using technology. So, do the skills of the caring profession need to evolve to accommodate that need?
Device literacy is important to those we care for – and COVID has escalated this
Experienced carers know to quickly find areas where a rapport can be built with their clients and residents, and where better to start than using what’s in most of our pockets – a device. In 2019, Ofcom revealed that 70% of people with learning disabilities have a smartphone, and 69% have a tablet. The charity Sense reported as part of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness report in 2018 that 50% of disabled people will feel lonely on any given day. The MP Jo Cox, in whose name the Commission was established, said, ‘We have more in common than that which divides us’. A love for using our phones and tablets to stay connected is just that – something in common which carers can utilise as part of care packages and day to day communication with their young clients. Device literacy has a vital role to play in the caring profession, especially during the unsettling psychological experience of a pandemic. Phones are a constant and should be a career tool for the carer.
Devices have an important role to play in building carer-client relationships and providing better support with more positive outcomes. Smartphones are the key to a world where disability is no barrier to independence, particularly for young adults, regardless of learning capabilities. Gaming, social media, photography and video empower us and allow us to show ourselves to the people we want to hear our voices. So, involving some of those digital tools in care packages makes sense, and provides connections on a more level playing field.
Digital literacy – a key role requirement for carers in the post-COVID world of work
A sharper focus on tech literacy in carer roles sends a strong signal to people considering a career in care. Young people are digital natives used to using devices in school and college to report and communicate and they expect tech to be part of their work – paper forms and records are not familiar. Shared media and shared experiences involve a device, and this should be the enabled when they are forming bonds at work with clients. The job description for caring roles could be less intimidating with more digital responsibilities, and we believe they must form a bigger part of the recruitment and training process for care providers. Technology should be used to inspire and motivate carers, and make their role more of a partnership with those they look after – recording progress or concerns, together.
Adding digital to the care package
Using apps, chat, and digital media to record progress has been proven in care settings to improve outcomes. We work with over 300 vulnerable people across the UK, in partnership with their carers, using a simple app with instructional videos which provide them with a way to record their levels of independence, their own impressions of their progress, and the carer’s observations. This can have significant wellbeing and satisfaction benefits for the carer as well as the client. Both are truly involved in, and responsible for outcomes.
Digital evidence of care progress can also act as a record of personal development for the carer, too, and help manage and evaluate their work.
What needs to change?
It’s time for care commissioners to work with care providers to set new standards for tech literacy in the caring profession. Making digital skills a core competency for carers will attract applicants with wider experience and let younger workers know that their innate tech literacy is appreciated and required. Enthusiasm for and competency in working with phones and tablets will make many vulnerable people feel more comfortable, especially young adults.
Acceptance of tech’s role in care is also key. Post COVID-19, the role of apps in a care package will grow. In-person contact may need to be restricted, yet support and communication can continue with familiar tech. Outcomes can be evidenced and improved with a few simple clicks. Tech will never replace human care, ever, but the combination of technology and human support can help us find common ground and solve complex resourcing problems that we will undoubtedly face as the financial implications of the pandemic hit.
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