Q: What lies behind the skills shortage that continues to afflict social work recruitment and retention?
A: The demand for qualified social workers will remain high and in all likelihood increase in 2009, writes Mary Jackson. We have a serious shortage of skilled practitioners within the UK and whatever the changes that are in store for children’s social care with regard to legislation, training or performance monitoring, the pressure on recruitment will continue.
In Hackney, although we have high numbers of applications from excellent newly qualified people it has been a challenge to recruit the most senior social workers.
This suggests that the number of people entering the profession is increasing or people are not staying in the field long enough to gain the necessary experience for more senior roles. Hopefully research now underway will clarify which it is, but regardless the shortage will continue to be an issue for at least the next five years.
This is not a new situation and there are several reasons why it continues to be a problem. In my opinion, it is fundamentally due to people’s perceptions (or misperceptions) of what social work entails. We recently received a hard copy application for the post of social worker. The applicant had taken the time to complete the form (which does take some time) print it, buy a stamp and envelope and send it. This leads me to believe that they are a) very interested in the role and b) believe they have a chance of being appointed.
When looking at the application it became apparent that this person does not have a social work qualification (although the person specification clearly states this is essential) or any previous experience with young people. The candidate had written a two-page personal statement outlining their enthusiasm and stressed particularly that they are good with children and are applying as they want to “give something back”. Now I am a strong believer in the importance of seeing potential and transferable skills – but there are limits.
In recruitment you learn very quickly that there are many people who decide to “have a go”, but we get applications of this nature with alarming regularity (the kebab shop worker who applied for a group manager role and the nanny who fancied herself as a consultant social worker come to mind). I am not convinced that we would get anywhere near as many applications of this type if we were recruiting doctors, psychologists or nurses. I’m sure the reason we get so many is because of a common belief that anyone can be a social worker – provided you care about people.
Until this perception of the profession changes the recruitment and retention of resilient, intelligent, qualified practitioners will continue to be a challenge for employers.
Mary Jackson is project manager, Reclaim Social Work campaign, Hackney Council
22 January QUESTION
I am a hospice social worker and really enjoy working in a therapeutic environment. However, after six years I’ve had enough of working with death and bereavement. I intend to complete the Enabling Others (Supervision, Assessment and Mentoring Skills for the Workplace) course in early 2009. What career options could be open to me after taking this?
We will answer this question in the 22 January issue of Community Care. We want to publish your advice too – send it to email@example.com by 16 January.
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