Case

Skill-Sharing Service

Sketter

Sketter is a skill-sharing service that allows novices and non-professionals opportunities to get involved in the non-physical aspects of senior care. Most registered users are college students or young adults in their 20s and 30s who have an interest in caregiving—and many are inspired to change careers as a result. The system is supported by subscription fees and there are no placement costs, making it attractive to organizations as well.

Skill-Sharing Service Sketter

On-Site Testing

Sketter

Sketter’s vision is to create a future where getting involved at nursing care settings is a natural part of daily life.

Sketter is a service that matches facilities that have jobs they need help doing with people who want to get involved with nursing care within the scope of their abilities. Future Care Lab in Japan worked in tandem with the development company, using the service to put a large number of people in contact with nursing care settings, with the goal of broadening people’s perspectives on working in the nursing care field. Having Future Care Lab in Japan involved from the testing stage through on-site introduction greatly multiplied the potential of the service.

Development Company Seeds

Develop and roll out a system that matches nursing care facilities that need support with people who want to help however they can in their spare time
Lab Matching ServicesLab Matching Services

Care Facility Needs

People with special skills able to lead activities, help with simple tasks (like serving and clearing food) so the facility can free up professional caregivers to focus on specialized tasks
An expansion tool that opens the door to overcoming labor shortages at nursing care sites

Interview

On-Site Testing Story

An expansion tool that opens the door to overcoming
labor shortages at nursing care sites

Interview
Participants

  • Ryohei Suzuki

    (From the development company)

    Plus Robo Co., Ltd.

    Ryohei Suzuki

    CEO

    Suzuki joined an online news distribution company after graduating from university. After working for three years as a journalist, he moved to a media startup where he served as Editor in Chief. Suzuki then decided to start his own company in the nursing care sector, something he had been interested in since college. Plus Robo Co., Ltd. was established in 2017, and planning on the Sketter project began the following year. The Sketter service was officially released in 2019.

  • Shinichiro Kataoka

    (From Future Care Lab in Japan)

    Future Care Lab in Japan

    Shinichiro Kataoka

    Director

    After working at a senior residential facility with nursing care services, Kataoka took on a job in hiring and education. He was appointed Director of Future Care Lab in Japan in February 2019.

  • Saori Haga

    (From Future Care Lab in Japan)

    Future Care Lab in Japan

    Saori Haga

    R&D Lead (Director of Social Services)

    Haga worked at a manufacturer for ten years in the planning of universal design products and nursing care robots. Today, she is an R&D lead at Future Care Lab in Japan.

What inspired you to develop a skill-sharing service like Sketter?

Suzuki: I learned during one of my university lectures that Japan was going to be facing a severe shortage of nursing care and social services workers in ten or twenty years. That triggered my interest in the field. I majored in media studies and took a media-related job after graduation, but I never stopped thinking about nursing care. In 2017, I decided to take the plunge and start my own company. At first, we worked as a sales agent for nursing care robots, and in the process got to see the increasing shorthandedness the nursing care and social services sector was experiencing as Japan’s working population gradually dwindled. We started wondering if there was anything we could do to increase the number of human resources available, which is how we ended up coming up with the Sketter—a skill-sharing service that provides a platform for people to get involved in the field during their spare time using whatever talents they have. The key to resolving the labor shortage, we decided, was clearly identifying tasks that people without qualifications or experience could do in nursing care settings, and then finding a way to visually map the available human resources, including members of the local community.

I was so happy that the Lab saw the systems-level potential in Sketter

I was so happy that the Lab saw the
systems-level potential in Sketter

How did you end up matching the needs at Future Care Lab in Japan (“the Lab”) with the seed ideas at Plus Robo?

Suzuki: It all started when Lab Director Kataoka reached out to us after we had presented Sketter at a nursing care and social services lecture.

Kataoka: Right. I happened to hear Mr. Suzuki speak at the lecture, and reached out to him almost immediately after.

I was so happy that the Lab saw the systems-level potential in Sketter

Kataoka: One of our primary aims at the Lab is to introduce technologies that improve productivity, particularly in assistance tasks related to meals, bathing, and excretion—but it’s important that we take steps to improve quality at the same time. It’s easy to forget about the hobbies and interests that seniors have when providing nursing care services, but we want to be able to give them opportunities to pursue what interests them and makes them happy, and help them take advantage of those opportunities. Most seniors actually have a variety of hobbies and interests, but when it comes to activities like choir, watercolors, or ceramics, professional caregivers rarely have the skills or the time to lead them. Facilities could ask professionals with specialized skills to do it, but again, it takes a lot of time and effort to find them. We were aware of the need for something like Sketter, so when I heard about it, the light went on.

Suzuki: I was delighted when the Lab proposed that we do some on-site testing together. Nursing care professionals are juggling everything themselves and just need someone to take over a few of their tasks—so for me, the goal is to create points of contact between the nursing care field and those “someones”—which in turn will help secure core human resources for nursing care in the future. I was so happy that the Lab saw the systems-level potential in Sketter.

Haga: After I contacted Mr. Suzuki and heard what he had to say, I met with the manager of a SOMPO Care facility that was already using Sketter. They told me that if it weren’t for Sketter, they would have likely had to reach out to a government volunteer portal to find people, and then wait several months for a response. They also said that they liked the fact that Sketter had a social media-type interface that allowed them to recruit people with artistic talent and to constantly keep in contact. I personally had questions about jobs that might be done by people without professional nursing care qualifications—like cleaning or laundry, for example. Sketter allows facilities to outsource specific tasks by category, so it seemed like it would be a great thing to use if you could figure out the right combinations.

Did you run into any difficulties during the on-site testing process?

Suzuki: We started by clearly identifying tasks and then trying to figure out how we could make professional caregivers’ daily lives easier—and I don’t think we had any particular difficulties. Everything went really smoothly. With our past service offerings, there would be days when a Sketter volunteer would show up and days when they wouldn’t, so we realized that we needed to make sure that someone was there every day. That’s one of the challenges we’re working on now. We’ve also been able to narrow down our focus to activities, which has made people at the facilities more satisfied with the app as well. I’m happy that we were able to run trial-and-error scenarios with the Lab in order to get the best possible outcomes during the pandemic as well.

Haga: We worked with facility managers to create a page on a recruiting site, but the pandemic worsened just as we were putting out requests for recreational and other tasks, and family members lost the ability to visit nursing care facilities. Residents were also forced to limit their recreation times to check the spread of the virus, but Sketter volunteers started showing up again with pandemic precautions in place once the emergency declaration was lifted. We’ve also added services like manicures and yoga that the residents just love and that the staff themselves have said they look forward to each time.

Sketter helped us get on the same page with care settings about the division of laborSketter helped us get on the same page with care settings about the division of labor

Sketter helped us get on the same page
with care settings about the division of labor

What were your big a-has or lessons during the course of the project?

Suzuki: I’m so grateful that the Lab took a full year for the testing period. It’s hard to get immediate results with Sketter, and it’s a tool we want people to continue using over the long term.

Haga: I’ve always thought of nursing care as a specialized profession, so it never sat well with me that they were doing things like cleaning and laundry. In the course of speaking with Mr. Suzuki, I was able to make sense of it in my own mind with the idea that certain things should be done by qualified professionals and certain things by everyday people, and that the two also had to work and coexist together. Nursing care facilities see caregiving as “support for everyday living,” so for them, cleaning and laundry often fall into that category. But ultimately we were able to get on the same page about the fact that they were going to have to take a different approach going forward. I also realized that if we want to address the shortage of nursing care workers, the division of labor that Sketter was aiming for was actually quite similar to the way the Lab thinks about technology—prioritizing tasks that need to be done by people, and those that can be left to technology.

Suzuki: It is a deeply-rooted social issue, and it’s not one that people in the nursing care sector can solve on their own. My hope is that Sketter can do its part, however small, to bring us closer to a solution by creating an infrastructure of mutual support that allows local communities and society as a whole to gradually pick up the slack.

Kataoka: Mr. Suzuki’s concept is widening the door to nursing care, starting with the easiest things to get involved in. That gives us access to people who may be unsure of whether they want to get into the field—such as university students—and allows us to tell them what’s great about it. We feel the same about that, and his passion has inspired me to want to work with him more.

Suzuki: There are other companies that recruit qualified and experienced workers and match them with nursing care jobs, but Sketter focuses on bringing in high school students and young adults rather than those with qualifications and experience. Creating a culture where people just drop into a nursing care facility on their way home from school, for example, while they’re young, is how we’re hoping to increase the number of people involved in the field.

Where is the product now, and what are your hopes for it in the future?

Suzuki: We’ve introduced Sketter at over a hundred worksites so far, and successfully made about 2,500 matches. There’s not a lot of growth right now due to the pandemic, but around a hundred people are signing up for Sketter each month, with 80% of participants coming in from other fields—so the number of people involved in nursing care is definitely increasing as a result. Most of them have regular corporate jobs, and we often hear that the sense of gratitude people feel towards them when they work as Sketter volunteers at nursing care sites gives them a feeling of deep satisfaction—particularly if they feel underappreciated at their regular jobs or that just going back and forth between home and work creates a sense of emptiness. In that way, I feel like we’re providing people with a new way to get involved with their communities. Going forward, we’d love to expand Sketter to include home-care services, creating an even broader mutual support infrastructure that allows everyone to use their existing talents to support nursing care and social services.

Haga: We’ve introduced Sketter at three facilities so far, but Sompo Care has around three hundred paid senior care facilities nationwide. Sketter is mostly used in the Kanto and Kinki regions now, meaning that we have a lot of room for future expansion. It’s a great product, so we’re eager to introduce it in as many places as possible. Going forward, we hope to increase the number of Sketter volunteers who reliably show up, which will allow us to completely separate out the work they do. What we’d like to see eventually is Sketter volunteers serving as constant helpmates to qualified professional caregivers—a regular daily presence at nursing care sites. Mr. Suzuki is an important partner as we work together to overcome the social problem of caregiver shortages in Japan, and he also graduated a few years ahead of me at the same university—which makes me even more eager to get fresh ideas from him.

Interviews based on information current as of September 2021.

Sketter helped us get on the same page with care settings about the division of labor

Message From
the Development
Company Team

Message From the Development Company Team

Development Company / Plus Robo Co., Ltd.

What we loved about working with
Future Care Lab in Japan

  • Future Care Lab in Japan can get involved in all kinds of initiatives beyond just on-site testing.
  • The Lab seeks the potential of Sketter from all kinds of different perspectives, supporting and encouraging its success.

Everyone that works at the Lab is passionate about what they do—the enthusiasm and sincerity are palpable. When it came to Sketter, they thought about the product seriously and went beyond simply testing it to seek out its additional potentials. You can go to the Lab with anything, and they share our drive to push toward the goal of overcoming personnel shortages in the nursing care and social services fields.

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