Locum learning

The recruitment crisis has meant that agencies are increasingly
using locums to deal with recruitment shortages but, asks Shirley
Ayres, what efforts are being made to improve the quality of agency

Amid continuing problems in the recruitment of social care and
social work staff, it comes as no surprise to learn that the number
of agencies supplying locum social workers has increased from 18 to
more than 46 in London alone during the past two years.

The new policy and legislative requirements now placed upon the
personal social services mean that at a time when expectations
about the quality and consistency of service delivery are higher
than ever, the permanent staff needed to deliver these services are
not always available. Employers in the social services have
therefore been forced to rely increasingly on agencies to help them
fill both short-term and long-term job vacancies.

Despite this rapid growth in agencies and the increasing
reliance on agency staff, it does not appear that any thought has
been given to the post-qualifying training and career development
needs of locum staff, apart from an assumption that they should be
and somehow will be trained. Yet it could be argued that their need
for training is even greater than that of their colleagues in
permanent contracts.

Locums are often expected to perform effectively the second they
arrive in an organisation, having been placed in an unfamiliar and
pressurised environment with little or no induction training.
Transfer of caseloads may be insufficiently detailed due to
pressures of time and staffing levels, leaving consistency and
continuity of care dependent on the experience and skills of the
locum. In general, locums have fewer opportunities to update their
skills, to take advantage of organisational resources or to plan
their career development in a structured fashion.

While individual agencies are aware of this and are taking
action on training to benefit their staff and their clients, no
real imperative will exist to address the issue of access to
training until specific requirements for locum staff are put into
contracts with social work agencies.

Andrew Downing of Amicus Consulting believes that the time is
right for a constructive dialogue between locum agencies and
authorities around the issue of training for independent social
workers. “With locums becoming an integral part of the human
resources strategy in many local authorities and more people
choosing to work as independent social workers, we need to pool
ideas and develop new strategies to address recruitment and
retention problems. Focusing on training and career development is
a very effective way of doing this and also underlines our
determination to provide a quality service.”

Across London, confusion exists about whether locum staff can
access the training provided by the organisation in which they are
working. While the Department of Health has stated in its guidance
on the training support programme that staff employed by
organisations providing a service to the local authority can access
the training, in practice many local authorities say the grant will
not cover the needs even of their permanent staff.

In London, which employs an estimated 24 per cent of all social
workers in England, the Greater London Post Qualifying Education
and Training Consortium (GLPQ) is attempting to address this issue.
It has established a pilot scheme offering locum social workers the
opportunity to access the PQ1, which is the entry requirement both
for the PQ Child Care Award and for the Approved Social Worker
Award. PQ1, which is the first of two core and six general
requirements for the Post Qualifying Award in Social Work, states
that: “All candidates must demonstrate that they have improved and
extended the level of competence acquired by the point of

For locum social workers, PQ1 would provide an additional level
of skill and confidence when carrying out an already difficult job
in different environments for varying lengths of time. It would
also help to provide an element of the professional recognition and
satisfaction that is often missing from the careers of temporary
staff in all walks of life. Jane Lindsay of Kingston University,
which is running the pilot scheme on behalf of GLPQ, believes that
PQ1 “provides an opportunity for social workers to take stock of
their achievements. It also prompts learning and career
development, which in turn can promote high standards of service

GLPQ’s view is that even if all social workers only achieved
PQ1, this would at least begin to address some of the
inconsistencies apparent in Diploma in Social Work training as it
currently stands. It would also go some way towards meeting
government initiatives to improve service delivery in the personal
social services – initiatives that are in danger of being
undermined if training issues such as these are not addressed
sooner rather than later.

There is a big challenge in terms of the quality of service
provided by recruitment agencies now, and for the foreseeable
future. How will they work strategically, collaboratively and
creatively with employers and education providers to ensure that
continuing professional development opportunities are available for
all staff working in the personal social services irrespective of
who employs them?

Shirley Ayres is chief officer at the Greater London
Post Qualifying Education and Training Consortium

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