German health facilities are dependent on foreign nursing staff for an immediate solution to the ever-increasing shortage of skilled workers. Unfortunately, however, recruiting staff is not always easy. The differences in training, as well as in the demands and expectations of caregivers from different nations, are too great. Even the recruitment agencies show large differences in quality. Additionally, the majority of migrant workers coming to Germany are poorly prepared for working life and cultural differences, and as a result, more and more nurses are returning home only a few months after starting work. The Dr. Drexler Retirement Home in Wiesbaden has had good experiences with Filipino nursing staff who have come to Germany as part of the Care With Care programme. In the following interview, Marc Thamm, Managing Director of the Dr. Drexler Retirement Home, provides his insights.
Mr. Thamm, is your institution affected by the increasing shortage of skilled workers? What are the biggest challenges in this country while searching for reliable nursing staff?
It has become a well-known phenomenon that, despite a flourishing economy and the fact that we have weathered the economic crisis relatively well, we in Germany are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers in a wide variety of industries. In the care and nursing industry, a societal and socially essential area, well-qualified local nursing professionals are now in short supply. This is certainly also due to the fact that, despite the highest psychological and physical demands, the nursing profession does not receive the recognition that would justify its importance for our society. At the same time, however, the demands of the elderly are also increasing, and the legal framework conditions are also becoming increasingly demanding. This means that care institutions, especially those in nursing care for the elderly, must ensure higher standards, allow more time per resident, but should not degenerate into a luxury good that only the top ten thousand can afford. Expert care and sufficient time for individual care must be accessible to everyone in Germany. However, this also requires the right environment, and incentives must be created for all employees in this sector. This is the only way to provide enough domestic staff for our ever-growing group of senior citizens.
How did you hear about the Care With Care recruitment program? How long have you been cooperating with Care With Care?
We actually came to Care With Care via detours. Like so many other nursing homes and care facilities, we had been looking for years for new ways to find motivated and well-trained nursing staff. Since the shortage of skilled workers has been one of the greatest challenges in this industry for many years, intuitive solutions were first used, such as the recruitment of nursing staff in the new federal German states, then in Eastern Europe and most recently also in southern European countries due to the high rate of youth unemployment. But either the supply there is already exhausted or, as in the case of Southern Europe, it is economically dependent. We therefore recognized that new and unfamiliar paths had to be taken. That's why we first looked around in other service industries and found our answer in shipping. It is well known that in the private, as well as in the commercial sector, a lot of Filipinos work on ships and cover a lot of services there. We contacted the Philippine company Magsaysay, which recruits workers in its own country for the same shipping industry. The latter then referred us to the Care With Care program, a joint venture between Magsaysay and Care.com, which was previously known primarily for babysitters and nannies. And quite quickly we started a project together with Steffen Zoller, the former head of Care With Care, to recruit university-trained nursing staff from the Philippines for vacant positions in Germany. We have been working together successfully since spring 2014 and regularly recruit nursing staff from the Philippines.
Would you be so kind as to summarise your experience in recruiting foreign nurses? What went well, what were the biggest hurdles?
We employ nursing staff from over 20 different nations at the retirement home. Our colleagues come from our neighbouring countries and from other continents. Our experience has shown that both employers and employees can face obstacles: The most frequent were incorrect expectation management in recruitment in the country of origin and a mutual lack of understanding between the different cultures. But there is also a discrepancy between theory and practice on the part of federal and state politicians: although everyone is talking about the shortage of skilled workers, further prerequisites and thus even higher hurdles for the entry and recognition of foreign skilled workers have been created in the last twelve months. In contrast, however, I would like to praise the sense of proportion at the local level, which makes it possible to welcome foreign employees, to create suitable conditions for them and to improve their language skills. In a joint effort with us, the local authorities helped to bring German working conditions closer to the migrants and to integrate them quickly into our community. Everyone benefits from this in the long term: our employees, our residents and, of course, society.
Where did the first foreign Care With Care nurses you hired come from? What anomalies did this lead to?
We have recruited certified nursing staff from the Philippines via Care With Care. Since we are now used to integrating different cultures into the team, but Care With Care is also successively mastering all the challenges mentioned above - both in the Philippines and in Germany -, no anomalies arose for us.
What exactly do you appreciate about the nursing staff you employ? Are they sufficiently prepared for living and working in Germany?
The decision to recruit Filipino nursing staff for us was made primarily because we were convinced of the culturally anchored care for the older generation in this country. The employees who have been with us for more than half a year are extremely friendly, willing to learn and just caring. They are equally popular with the staff and the residents. The interest in Germany and its culture even motivates the nursing staff to become more and more involved locally.
What do you think is most important in the integration of foreign caregivers? What should employers pay attention to?
It has happened time and again that incorrect expectation management was used in the recruitment process in the country of origin. In the last three years we have recruited employees from the following countries - partly with the support of employment agencies, partly directly in our personal network and with our own ideas: Spain, Romania, Serbia, China, Bosnia and the Philippines. Some nurses expect only an economic improvement, others underestimate the "German way". It is therefore very important to promote the development of understanding of cultural differences. For example, the way we deal with criticism and praise, or the way we work in a team, were treated in surprisingly different ways in our institution.
What do you think are the benefits of the Care With Care programme? Would you recommend it? If so, for what reasons?
We had the opportunity to work together with many different companies to recruit employees from abroad for German nursing professions. As different as the countries were, so different are the experiences with the corresponding German companies operating within these countries. At Care With Care, the first good feeling was already there when it was not said that we had to up-front money before the search for suitable candidates even began. Everything followed the tenor "we show you what we can do and then a fee is due". This is certainly not a standard, but immediately gave a serious first impression. But even more important were things like the quality of the pre-selection of candidates, the fast reaction time for queries and the assignment of concrete contact persons throughout the entire process. Thanks to these essential, but not self-evident elements of cooperation on the market, Care With Care is one of our preferred cooperation partners.
Laura Esnaola has been with Care With Care from the very beginning. The international programme for recruiting foreign care specialists offers employers in the healthcare sector global personnel solutions, while accommodating medical nursing staff from abroad who are looking to start a career in Europe. Through Care With Care, Laura Esnaola places nursing staff, primarily from the Philippines, while advising personnel decision-makers from clinics, senior care and rehabilitation facilities on the successful integration of employees in order to strengthen intercultural understanding and communication. This ensures that employees remain with the companies long-term. In addition to her activities as Managing Director of Care.com Europe GmbH and Head of Care With Care, Laura Esnaola is involved in charitable projects worldwide and makes the occasional appearance as a violinist.