Flexibility for frontline workers crucial to tackling Scotland's record vacancy levels

Providing flexibility for thousands of frontline workers in Scotland is crucial to tackling record vacancy levels, experts have said.

While many organisations have begun embracing hybrid working for office roles, flexibility for those working in health and social care and hospitality has been largely overlooked, according to social business Flexibility Works.

It noted that many industries with high numbers of frontline workers were struggling to find the new recruits they needed to fill thousands of vacancies.

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Recent official figures showed that there were more than a million vacancies across the UK for the first time, and that the hospitality sector, covering hotels, pubs and restaurants, had seen a 75 per cent increase in just three months over the summer.

Community Integrated Care employs more than 900 people in Scotland, and the majority are frontline workers who support adults with a range of physical and mental needs in their own homes so they can live independent lives. Picture: Martin Neeves Photography

Meanwhile, Royal Bank of Scotland' s latest monthly report on jobs revealed that vacancies in Scotland were holding close to an all-time high but the availability of suitable candidates has “plummeted”.

Nikki Slowey, co-founder and director at Flexibility Works, said: “The pandemic has proved how much we rely on frontline workers so we all need these vacancies filled. It’s not always possible to boost pay, but employers can make themselves much more attractive by the way they allow people to work.

“Clearly frontline workers can’t work from home easily, or at all in many cases. But employers can talk to teams and be more creative when it comes to agreeing work patterns.

“There’s growing interest in four-day weeks, or nine-day-fortnights and staggered shifts, all of which give frontline workers more choice and control over their work.

“But often, flexible working on the frontline is simply about being organised and sharing rotas in good time so people can plan around them, and allowing teams to help put rotas together in the first place, taking into account individual preferences. It doesn’t need to be a big change to make a huge difference to someone’s life.”

Teresa Exelby, chief people officer at Community Integrated Care, which employs more than 900 people in Scotland, said: “Retaining employees in the social care sector has always been a challenge, and it’s becoming even more difficult following the coronavirus pandemic.

“In a recent employee survey, our workforce confirmed that a majority believe extra flexibility would be beneficial.

“As a result, we’ve piloted a four-day compressed working week for office-based colleagues, giving people the benefit of a three-day weekend. It’s been received incredibly well, and we’re currently looking at rolling this model out across all of our leadership roles.

“For frontline colleagues, we’re currently exploring a range of options including new shift patterns that might involve monthly, or fortnightly hours.”

Figures released by Flexibility Works show that 29 per cent of Scottish workers who were not furloughed in lockdown worked away from home. For those earning less than £20,000 a year, this figure rose to 45 per cent.

Before Covid, 44 per cent of Scottish workers on lower incomes said they didn’t work flexibly because it wasn’t available for their specific role. A similar number (43 per cent) said they were now at least considering asking their employer for more flexibility.

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