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Bluebird Care is a homecare provider in the south of England. It employs around 200 care assistants who work in the community providing care services in people’s homes which can range from a 30-minute visit to full live-in support.
Sharon Tutton has been operations director for the past four years, having previously worked in corporate banking. As she explains to Alison Sumpter, placements in care settings are not always straightforward, but the advent of T Levels is an opportunity not to be missed – especially in a world likely to be dealing with the impact of COVID-19 for many years to come.
Why T Levels and industry placements now?
Alison asked what attracted Bluebird Care to T Levels and industry placements at this particular time when everyone is so busy dealing with the pandemic? “I suppose there’s both a personal reason and a business reason. From a business point of view, COVID has raised the profile of care assistants quite a lot. Before COVID it was often seen as a job of last resort, which it’s absolutely not – it’s an incredibly important and worthwhile role. It’s always been part of my motivation to promote the care assistant role as a career, to bring good people into the organisation. That’s the business motivator”.
Sharon Tutton said, “Personally, I think it’s very important to give young people an understanding of what the role is and to experience it for themselves”.
How will typical industry placement work?
“Until now we’ve only been able to provide work placements in our offices but not in people’s homes. That’s not really what either we or the students want. Now with T Levels we’re able to get authorisation for slightly older students to go into the community, so I’m hoping that the industry placements we’re able to offer students will enable us to deliver what we and they want to achieve. Being a care assistant is a tough gig but it’s amazingly fulfilling. I want them to have that feeling of what it’s like”.
Alison asked Sharon to elaborate on the issue of students not being able to go into the community and how great a problem this is.
“Homecare provision, care homes, nursing and so on are what students are most interested in, and there’s only a certain amount you can show them in the office. For the one-week placements I drew up a structured programme working alongside various team members. Even so it was fairly limited and didn’t really match up to students’ career aspirations”.
The ideal ‘day in the community’ for a T Level student?
Sharon outlined her hopes for the placement. “Our placement students will be able to work alongside a senior care assistant visiting customers – with their prior agreement, of course. The idea is that students would take part in some – not all – of the activities which care assistants provide to customers. They’d also have time in the office to see the whole story from start to finish. By spending time with our coordinator and customer care manager, students would see how we initially assess a customer, write the care plan, prepare risk assessments and talk to customers about our terms of business”.
Selling the vision of industry placements
“When I first mentioned industry placements to the owner of the business, he wanted to understand their purpose and how much of team members’ time would be taken up by them. I told him that having T Level students for a day a week over a longer period of time would be less of a drain on resources than if they were with us for a full week – not that I see it as a drain in any case!
"It wasn’t an easy sell, but I convinced him that it would be good for recruitment if we could capture the imaginations of young people early on in their thought processes about a career. It would give us the opportunity to forge a longer-term relationship with them – that’s how I sold it”.
The impact COVID has had on T Level planning and preparation
“The biggest barrier is convincing customers that it’s okay for another person to come into their homes. When COVID first hit some customers went into panic and cancelled their care assistant. I’m pleased to say they’re all back with us now, we didn’t lose a single customer. We’ve followed all the Public Health England guidance, which has increased their confidence. But our biggest challenge for industry placements will be finding enough customers who are happy for that additional person to go in”.
“Now that we have dealt with several lockdowns we have experience of lots of situations – there was something new every day which we had to find a solution to. The office environment isn’t a problem because there are clear procedures in place. We’ve split teams into two in the main office, working on alternate days to help with social distancing. There are protocols for wearing face masks, hand-washing, temperature tests and so on, just as you’d expect”.
“There are other things we’ve introduced as well. All our team meetings are via Teams. That includes all our care assistants – we thought they would hate it, but actually they love it. We also support people working from home if they want to or when they’re shielding”.
“From a care perspective we worked under ever-changing government guidance about personal protective equipment, but that was all implemented very swiftly”.
Has COVID-19 meant you’ve had to re-sell the idea of industry placements?
“My biggest sell to the owner of the business before COVID-19 was to position industry placements as a recruitment tool. With what’s been happening to the economy during the pandemic we’re now seeing a good flow of applicants from people wanting to be care assistants. So the owner asked, “Why do you we need to do this now, when recruitment is going so well?”. My argument is that we’re looking for people who want to be care assistants and see it as a long-term career. That’s why it’s so important to keep trying to bring young people in”.
The strategic view
“We’re all ready to go ahead. Once I know I have a student and where they live, I’ll draw up a programme based on what they want to achieve from the placement. It’s about actually getting to know a bit about the student first and trying to fulfil their desires throughout the whole placement.
Sharon’s advice to other employers considering offering industry placements to T Level students:
- Meet the students in person before you confirm the placements, to make sure they can fit in with the team. Finding out about this, plus their work ethic, is every bit as important as knowing their existing skills or experience – maybe even more so.
- Plan the placements in detail at every single location, so that the needs and interests of the student can link with the skills within the team.
- Ensure a range of experience to cover as much of the role as possible, to give students an accurate picture of what it’s really like.
- Take regular stock of progress though reviews and updates with students and their managers, to ensure that all is well.
- Take personal responsibility for making T Level industry placements a success – it needs a champion who’s able to oversee all aspects.
- Promote the wonderful opportunities for a career in your sector in general – and your organisation in particular.