Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have far lower social work vacancy rates than England, Community Care can reveal.
Our first survey of vacancy rates in the whole UK shows the devolved nations have a more stable workforce. Sector leaders attribute this to their social workers enjoying greater support and respect than their counterparts in England.
In Northern Ireland vacancy rates are just 4% – compared with 11% in England – while only 8% of posts in Scotland are unfilled. The Welsh vacancy rate is 9%.
Moira Gibb, chair of the Social Work Reform Board, has repeatedly championed progressive workforce strategies in Northern Ireland as a blueprint for reform in England.
One of the key programmes being brought in as part of a new training and development structure – an assessed year in employment for social work graduates – has been in place in Northern Ireland since 2006.
Newly qualified social workers are provided with guaranteed supervision and support for their first year in practice, in a scheme that has cut levels of burnout, according to Gerry Skelton, lecturer and trainer in social work at Belfast Metropolitan College.
“They are not left with overwhelming caseloads and no one to turn to; they feel more protected and supported,” he said.
Demand for social work degree courses and graduate jobs in the region is so high that health and social care trusts, the main employers of social workers, have introduced waiting lists in the past two years.
Skelton said social work was increasingly seen as a “lifetime career”, in contrast to other sectors which were in decline.
Similarly, Bill Eadie, head of social care at Stirling Council, said the stability of the workforce in Scotland was partly explained by geography: many people worked in the authority where they lived, and the quality of life was relatively high.
This is in contrast to the labour market in London, where the workforce is extremely mobile, with many changing employer frequently, and where vacancy and turnover rates have remained high for years.
Eadie also cited better political support and a willingness to listen to the views of practitioners as reasons for Scotland’s low vacancy rate.
“Frontline practitioner forums have been developed across Scotland with direct access to government,” Eadie said. “These give a clear message to staff at the front line that their views and contribution towards national policy are valued, not only in their individual workplaces but also as a collective voice nationally.”