As a social care provider who looks after over 300-plus people, one of the biggest issues facing the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) and the sector in general has been its ability to attract and fill staffing vacancies. But a recent PCI community-based recruitment initiative for care assistants, team leaders and other posts exceeded expectations when it filled 70 per cent of vacancies.
The Council for Social Witness (CSW), PCI’s social care arm, manages the denomination’s day-to-day provision of residential, nursing, supported housing, respite and day care, along with a number of community-based programmes. It includes Aaron House, a residential care home for 14 people with profound learning disability, in Dundonald’s Ballybeen estate. It also has a day care centre, which usually supports 9 people, and has two rooms available for respite care.
As Rev David Brice, Convener of the Council for Social Witness, explained, “For organisations like PCI, and others who provide a wide range of professional social care, the last few years have seen very testing times. It is an understatement to say that it has been a challenging period for the system and those who work in it. One of the ongoing challenges that we face is attracting new people into the caring profession, which is why we needed to come up with a different and perhaps more hands-on approach for Aaron House, which has been part of the Ballybeen community since it opened in 1995.”
Having tried traditional advertising methods to recruit, Mr Brice said that they wanted to ‘push the boat out’ and make a specific effort in the local community. “It wasn’t rocket science, but it took some time and effort. We leafleted over 1,000 homes on the estate to let people know about Aaron House and the local job opportunities that were available on their doorstep. We also did some social media and the community came up trumps,” Mr Brice explained.
The leaflet – which listed some of the benefits of working at Aaron House, including a £500 ‘welcome bonus’ – was also an invite to a special recruitment day held in Ballyoran Community Centre. Here people could be interviewed by members of the CSW team and colleagues from PCI’s personnel department at one of three interview stations that were running throughout the day. Assistance was also given to those who needed help filling in their application form, along with the promise that each interviewee would have a decision on the same day – conditional on future Access NI clearance and the taking up of references.
Mr Brice continued, “If we got two or three people we would have been pleased. Come the day we were able to fill eleven vacancies, which was far and away beyond our expectations. We were amazed.
“For over a quarter of a century Aaron House has been home to some amazing people, who are cared for by a team of incredibly dedicated individuals. Some of the staff team have been there since it opened and along with their colleagues, continue to go the extra mile for those in their care.
“Across all our homes we seek to provide care in a specifically Christian ethos and environment, but you don’t need to be a Christian to work for us, or be cared for by us. As a Church, and as individual Christians however, we are called to demonstrate Jesus’ love for people,” he said.
“This means putting our faith into practical action and simple Christian caring, which we seek to do in all the homes that we manage. It is a powerful social witness of the gospel. This hands on recruitment drive, and the people we have coming on stream, will take a lot of the pressure off our colleagues at Aaron House, who for too long have been working additional shifts. They will be joining a great team.”
Since the formation of the Presbyterian Orphan and Children’s society in 1866, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has played a key role in ministering to the physical needs of people. This approach continues today overseas, and at home though its homes and support units, community based projects, and the work of its congregations on the ground across Ireland. Originally managed by the Currie Community, PCI took over the management of Aaron House in 2009 in partnership with Choice Housing Association, who are responsible for the maintenance of the building.
Read more about PCI’s Social Witness on their website.