UK employers will find it more difficult to turn to the US, Australia or New Zealand to fill social worker vacancies in adult services, if the government approves proposals unveiled yesterday.
The independent Migration Advisory Committee said the “shortage occupation list” should only include social workers working with children and families, after finding “no compelling evidence of shortages” of adults’ staff.
The proposal comes just two weeks after exclusive Community Care research revealed 12% of adults’ social worker posts in England were vacant, compared with 13% in children’s social work.
Inclusion on the list, in tier 2 of the UK’s points-based immigration system, means an occupation is skilled, is suffering from labour shortage, and employers can actively recruit from outside, as well as within, the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA comprises the European Union member states, plus three countries in the European Free Trade Agreement – Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein.
But the MAC’s proposal, if adopted, would restrict employers’ ability to look further afield for adults’ social workers. For example, they would have to pass the “resident labour market test”, which means they must first try to recruit locally, through Jobcentre Plus and advertising in national newspapers and trade magazines. Only then, if they were unsuccessful, could they look to sponsor a candidate from outside the EEA.
Demand for children’s social workers
The MAC said demand for children’s services social workers had increased as the sector focused more on early intervention and reducing caseloads.
The influx of newly trained social workers was “broadly in line with the required numbers”– and there were even calls for a cap on the number of students taking courses – but “shortages of workers with a number of years’ experience” remained in children and family services.
Non-EEA social workers
The MAC’s figures suggest employers have been looking further afield for social workers: in March 2009, 11% of social workers were born outside the EEA, compared with 9% six months earlier.
In its report last September, the MAC did not recommend placing social workers on the shortage occupation list, but the government suggested temporary inclusion.
John Nawrockyi, of the Association of Directors of Adult Services workforce committee, told Community Care he was “disappointed” with the decision on adult’s staff and said he hoped to gather more evidence so the MAC would reconsider.
“It doesn’t stop us [from recruiting from overseas], it just puts an extra stage in and we have to test local markets first,” he added.
Nawrockyi said the use of overseas workers varied across the country, with “more movement” in London because more people arrived in the capital.
Councils had directly recruited in the past from countries including Australia, South Africa and Canada, he said, but did not target those suffering their own shortages of qualified social workers.
In yesterday’s report, MAC also took on board recommendations from the care sector to amend the criteria used to define a “skilled senior care worker”.
Last September, it defined a skilled senior care worker as earning at least £8.80 an hour and holding a relevant qualification at NVQ Level 3 or above. But it has changed this to £7.80 an hour and a relevant NQF level 2+ or equivalent, along with at least two years’ relevant experience and supervisory responsibility in their role.
Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, said the change would “offer some help for hard-pressed providers”.