Survey highlights recruitment initiatives

Vacancy rates are falling and employers are pursuing a host of
initiatives to improve recruitment and retention of social workers,
according to the latest Social Services Workforce study, which
surveyed all the local authorities in England and was published in

The latest staffing data show that there were more than 41,000
field social workers of which a half worked in children’s,
and another 20,000 staff that planned and managed services based in
social services departments. This out of a total of 277,200 staff
(or the equivalent of 208,300 full-time) posts employed in

Vacancy rates

The average vacancy rate in September 2002 was 6 per cent, which
was down by a third from a year earlier. Generally there had been a
reduction in vacancies across most occupations except among
occupational therapists where nearly one in six posts are

• Children’s social work had a vacancy rate of
nearly one in 10.
• Other social workers areas had vacancy rates of 6 per
• The lowest rates were among residential managers, which
varied between 3 to 6 per cent depending on settings.

However, while vacancy rates were falling, local authorities
reported rising recruitment difficulties. One in two social
services departments reported difficulties with recruiting
children’s social workers and more than one in four reported
problems filling other social work posts. Councils had the least
difficulties employing home care managers and staff for older
people and adult care homes.
There were less retention difficulties than recruitment problems,
but again a third of councils reported difficulties retaining
children’s social workers.

While turnover of staff had risen from 12.6 per cent to 13.6 per
cent over the period the rate among social workers had fallen to
one in 10 for field social workers and nearly 12 per cent for
children’s social workers.

Regional variations persist with London and the South East
experiencing greater problems recruiting and retaining staff and
the South West having the least problems.

Recruitment and retention measures

The report highlighted the most common initiatives taken by
councils. These were:

• Advertising on the internet (44 per cent to 68 per cent
depending on job).
• Advertising in the local press (36 per cent – 57 per
• Exit interviews (37 per cent – 49 per cent).
Specialist journals and the national press had additionally been
used for social workers. Other recruitment methods included
advertising in shops and libraries, on till receipts  and with
posters in cinemas and on buses. Also popular were joint
recruitment with local NHS trusts and college open days.
• About a third of departments used job fairs and developed a
plan for their workforce needs.
• About a fifth had improved training measures.
• A fifth had recruited children’s social workers from
other countries, mainly Australia (8 departments), South Africa
(6), Zimbabwe and Canada (both 5).
• A third of departments had improved pay for
children’s social workers.
• 68 per cent had trained up other staff to fill social work
posts and three-quarters gave more training to employees to support
social workers.

Use of agency staff

• 82 authorities reported using long-term agency
• 40 authorities reported the number of long-term agency
employees working in their
authorities. Drawing on these returns it is estimated that 4,800
long-term agency workers were working in all social services
departments, about 2 per cent of the total social services
workforce and 13 per cent of the workforce in London. A third of
agency staff were employed as children’s social
All these measures are beginning to reduce vacancy rates but
individual councils are still fishing in the same pool for staff
which is leading to greater difficulties. One area of concern was
finding the candidate for the post with the right qualifications
and experience. It is hoped that the new degree will go some way to
improving training and education of social workers.

The next Recruitment Talk bulletin will look at pay and benefits
among social work staff.

Social Services Workforce Series number 31,  can be
obtained from

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