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Homestyle Aged Care uses tech to fill open roles fast during a talent shortage

Homestyle Aged Care, like all aged care providers, is in a battle for talent. Xref spoke to the HR team about such hiring challenges and what they are doing to overcome them.

Female, brunette nurse offers aged care assistance to older woman in pink
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Xref is helping us speed up the recruitment process and ensuring we don't lose candidates to other providers - Dawn Griffiths


Average hours taken to return completed references


References returned outside of business hours


Opt-in for talent pool 'People Search'

For many organisations, the talent shortage has created stiff competition for talent. Industries with frontline workers and those who can’t work from home have been impacted heavily. 

With eleven residential aged care homes across Melbourne and Geelong in Victoria, Australia, Homestyle Aged Care, like all aged care providers, is in a battle for talent. Homestyle has been supporting the people of Victoria for over 30 years. 

The Royal Commission into Aged Care (2018 - 2021) and the COVID pandemic have been the biggest inhibitors to hiring skilled talent in this labour market. As such, qualified, willing talent is scarce, and competition is fierce. 

Xref spoke with Dawn Griffiths, General Manager of Human Resources and Emma Pratt, Talent Acquisition Specialist, about such hiring challenges and what they are doing to overcome them.

Tell us about your role with Homestyle Aged Care and your background

Emma: I’m the Talent Acquisition Specialist at Homestyle Aged Care. I've been in this role for a year, but I've been with Homestyle for two years. Previously, I worked in the Admissions team at one of our homes. 

My role focuses on advertising for candidates and screening their resumes. Then I send them directly to the hiring manager in our homes. Each home has a Roster Coordinator that arranges the interview, does the reference check through Xref, all the paperwork and sends the contracts. 

Dawn: I joined Homestyle 18 months ago. I have over thirty years of HR experience, specialising in leadership development and employee rewards, culture and engagement. I also support the organisation from an Industrial Relations (IR) and Employment Relations (ER) perspective.

What have you focused on in terms of hiring this year?

Dawn: Our talent acquisition strategy is about filling roles because of growth and attrition. We opened a new Home in Tarneit and getting staff there has been really successful so far. It's in the growth corridor for Melbourne, so we receive more applications than in established suburbs. But really, our focus has always been on getting the right employees for our Homes.

Do you think the market has changed in recent times?

Dawn: Part of my role is to look at what attracts employees to us and why they leave. I suspect the Royal Commission and The Great Resignation impacted us in terms of attrition due to people seeking more flexibility through remote or hybrid roles, which residential aged care doesn’t offer.

But what attracts people to us is location, and our reputation for providing quality care. 

I think, as an industry, we need to talk more about the value of working in aged care to help attract and retain talent. There is a demand for skills in this space.

It's such meaningful work - to be providing care and dignity to older Australians. 

What are some of the hiring challenges you have faced in the last 12 months? How did you overcome them?

Dawn: One of our most significant issues from the HR side is the lack of available staff at the moment. We are competing heavily for workers against other aged care providers. There are a couple of reasons for that: 

  1. The Royal Commission took about 18 months and unfortunately vilified the industry. Thankfully, there are committed, dedicated and passionate people in our industry. 
  2. The beginning of 2020 brought COVID, which meant that our people had to work wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE). Even today, workers in our homes are required to wear masks, and up until very recently, they also had to wear face shields to do our best to protect the residents. 
  3. The shift towards hybrid or remote work. People prefer to work at home or have the option to. You cannot provide care remotely, so our jobs require nurses and carers to come physically to our homes. So people are leaving for the increased flexibility that remote or hybrid roles offer. 

To overcome these challenges, we must ensure the employment process is as easy as possible. 

I'm delighted that Emma joined the team 12 months ago, because her role, in conjunction with the support of technology like Xref, has helped us to employ over 200 people more this year compared to last year. Xref is helping us speed up the recruitment process and ensuring we don't lose candidates to other providers.

I’m hopeful that the outcome of the Royal Commission encourages people to see that they want to be part of the solution to provide a better quality of care to the elderly, and they come to us to do that. Then, we can work with them to help our employees grow and develop. We need more nurses, and we hope to attract and develop people through that nursing pathway. 

Before you used Xref, how did you collect references? How long did it take?

Dawn: When I first joined the organisation, one of the pain points for recruitment  was that a busy person was responsible for doing two paper-based references. 

So you have the names and phone numbers of two individual people. Then that busy person spends the next week playing phone tag with an individual. Our people said to me, “If I could close it out in two days, it would be a miracle.” But it often took longer to do that. 

Bear in mind, you've got people taking references who work nine to five, trying to get a reference from somebody who works nine to five and often doesn’t have the time to give that reference during working hours. 

On top of this, we need to keep copies of the references and an audit trail. Often our people would handwrite information, then be delayed typing it up. So from a recruitment perspective, reference checks were a bit of a pain point because of the time it took, the logistics of connecting with people and then the admin of taking handwritten notes and transcribing them for the audit trail.

I had used Xref in the past, so when I saw these pain points, I knew what tool could help us. I put in a pilot and explained the process. Starting with the candidate putting in the email for their references, Xref then manages that process. I shared that I think we can get responses back within 24 hours and it means that the people responding can respond in their own time, not in the nine to five. The best part was that Xref documents it all for us. The team didn’t believe me at first!

So after the pilot, the CEO and Director of Nurses met and we showed how much support Xref provided our business. The CEO signed the renewal immediately.

The tool speaks for itself. They could see the time it had saved, the reduction of stress, plus the speed at which we're able to go to offer. 

People might go for two interviews, and they're going to accept the company that offers them the job the fastest. Before Xref, we were offering jobs and people were already working elsewhere. By using Xref, we could jump ahead and be the first to make job offers. 

Being in an industry that requires trust when working with vulnerable people, how do you achieve confidence in your hires? 

Emma: Xref’s suspicious references feature helps a lot. You wouldn't otherwise know from a phone call, who you're talking to. It could be a friend of the candidate for example, not their direct line manager. But the way that Xref flags whether they've used the same computer makes you aware and you can investigate. Most of the time, it is legitimate, for example, someone being at the same workplace as their manager, but on other occasions, you have friends or partners giving a reference. The technology doesn't lie. It gives you peace of mind, knowing that the references are real.

Does Xref help keep compliant practices in place?

Emma: Having the online record of all of the references is helpful. I can go back and check a reference from 12 months ago - it's still there, and easy to find. If the references were on paper - we would have to access archive files.

Dawn: The real value I see from Xref is during our quarterly meetings. We can look at the verbatim responses - the rate of responses and how many words we have in each. 

What other benefits do you experience working with Xref?

Dawn: Xref offers us advice on asking the best questions and potentially changing some of our questions to provide better responses. Emma worked with Amanda (Xref’s Customer Success Manager) to improve our questions, making them a little more open, leading to stronger responses. From there, we get a better view on those candidates. So I see that as a real value-add from Xref. You do so much of this, why wouldn't you help share best practices across industries and from one employer to another? 

Emma: For me, the main benefit would be the People Search function. I found it by accident one day. What I do now every month, is download a spreadsheet of all those who opted in and email them with all the job openings at Homestyle. 

We have Registered Nurses (RNs), Nurse Managers and Clinical Managers who are referees. We want to fill roles like those. So that's just another way to source passive job seekers using Xref. I have had a few people reply directly to these emails, sending their resumes through looking for opportunities. 

We recruited a Nurse at Ferndale Gardens using the People Search talent pool.  Even if it's not those referees applying directly, they forward my email to their own contacts. It’s a pool that is continually growing because we're constantly doing references. 

Dawn: We are accessing people in a competitive market, so the more people that you can have a chat with, the more chances you have of filling an open role. You can call someone and might just happen to get them on the right day. Sometimes you need a little bit of luck, but if you’ve got the right tools, they can help nudge that luck along.

Outside of People Search, another benefit Xref provides is the behind-the-scenes. Our Account Manager Jono is a great support in helping us with quarterly reviews. The collaboration between us and Xref - the culture you have in your organisation really feels much more like a supportive partnership.

Would you recommend us?

Emma: Yes definitely. Gone are the days when you have to pick up the phone to do a reference. If you're not fast enough, you lose the applicants.

Xref has changed the way we recruit. Xref allows us to move much quicker to get candidates on board.

Dawn: Xref has reduced reference taking from a week to one day. Xref has a very supportive team and the service provided by Jono and Amanda is excellent. 


With the talent and skills shortage heavily affecting nursing in the medical and aged care sectors, organisations like Homestyle Aged Care need to move quickly to secure skilled workers. Reducing attrition is also a key goal and having confidence in who you are hiring can help this. 

Dawn and Emma have been hiring during one of the most challenging periods in recent history and using technology like Xref has helped them achieve success. 

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