Vacancy rates edge downwards as survey identifies key factors in recruiting staff

Turnover and vacancy rates in the social care workforce are down but recruitment blackspots linger on. Josephine Hocking reports

Recruiting and retaining social workers remains difficult for councils, particularly in children’s services, found a workforce survey published by the Local Government Association last week.

Children’s social workers are the most difficult to hire: 69 per cent of local authorities reported problems recruiting them, and the highest vacancy rates (15 per cent) are for care staff in children’s homes.

Children’s social worker positions are also the main posts filled by long-term agency staff with 89 per cent of councils having to fill vacancies in this way (100 per cent in London).

The research found that these recruitment problems persist, despite higher investment in training and improved pay.

Overall council spending on social work training rose by 68 per cent to £36.4m in 2005, following another steep rise in 2004, and pay has risen 21.7 per cent for children’s social workers since 2001, to an average of £29,892.

Recruitment solutions seem elusive when more than half of councils say “the nature of the work” is a key reason for difficulties in finding and keeping children’s social workers.

Pay was cited as an issue by 41 per cent of councils and more than three-quarters reported that a lack of suitably qualified candidates was a problem.

But there are glimmers of hope. In the entire social care workforce, annual turnover fell from 13.1 per cent in 2004 to 11.6 per cent in 2005 and turnover has edged downwards from 13.9 per cent in 2001. Overall total workforce vacancy rates fell from 11.1 per cent in 2004 to 10.5 per cent in 2005.

The most common ways of tackling social worker shortages are training social work assistants to become qualified social workers, improving IT, and providing more training for support staff. The most successful involve more home-working
and key worker housing.

Jo Cleary, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Social Services human resources committee, says access to key worker housing is important but “had not been sufficiently addressed”.

Good quality continuing professional development is vital for recruitment and retention, says Ann Harrison, development manager for social care at the Children’s Workforce Development Council. The CWDC is to continue to work with employers on what they are looking for in staff.

Nushra Mapstone, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, says children’s social workers need effective support to help cope with stressful jobs. Sufficient admin staff, good supervision and allocated time for  professional development are all vital but often lacking, she adds.

Cleary notes the greater problems in children’s services but warns against responding by making pay and conditions in children’s services better than in the adult sector.

Working with vulnerable adults is complex and should not be downgraded, she says.

● Turning social work assistants into social workers.
● Improving IT.
● Training for support staff.
● Flexible working.
● Better pay.
● Hire social workers from Canada, USA and Germany.
● Bursary schemes.
● Home-working.
● Key worker housing.

Local Authority Social Care Workforce Survey 2005

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