Social worker recruitment still difficult despite planning

Social workers were cited as the number one profession facing recruitment problems in English and Welsh councils, according to a survey from Local Government Employers.

In England, 78% of councils experienced difficulties in recruiting children and families social workers followed by 61% experiencing problems finding community care social workers. In Wales, 73% of local authorities faced difficulties in recruiting children and families social workers, 64% for community care social workers and 55% for residential social workers.

While other professions were proving difficult to obtain, it was social work that took the top spots for recruitment.


It was the same for retention. In England and Wales, retaining social workers was the number one problem for councils. In Wales, 64% of councils experienced difficulties in keeping children and families social workers and 55% had problems with community care practitioners; in England the figure dropped to nearly half for children and families and 43% for community care social workers.  

Councils were addressing the problems with either the payment of market supplements, paid in half of the posts in England, or the adoption of “family-friendly policies” such as flexible working, child care arrangements and so on. E-recruitment was also a popular choice among councils along with greater analysis and planning of workforce needs.


While Scottish councils experienced similar problems in recruiting social workers, there were even more problems with other professions. Difficulties in recruiting children and families social workers were faced by 77% of councils, with just over half facing problems with community care social workers. While these figures are similar to the difficulties faced by councils in England and Wales, there were problems in Scottish councils recruiting a range of professions such as planning (85%), building surveyors (77%), and environmental health (70%).

A quarter of councils were paying market supplements to recruit planning and civil engineering professionals.

Where Scotland was blazing a trail was in retention with only 30% of councils experiencing problems in keeping hold of children and families social workers while other parts of the profession did not register as being problematic.

Scotland maybe enjoying the fruits of its 21st Century review. This widescale inquiry into the nature of social work put forward several proposals to fill the gaps and reduce turnover. These included market supplements, fast-tracking of graduate recruits, better training, and councils training up their own staff to fill positions.

Will the GSCC’s Review and Tasks of Social Work Inquiry have the same effect south of the border?

Workforce development

In Scotland, however, the LGE survey points to lack of planning of workforce development in accounting for widespread recruitment problems. Fewer than 10% of local authority employees were covered by a workforce development plan in Scotland in 2005-6; down from 40% a year before. This contrasts with 63% covered in England and nearly 30% in Wales, both improvements on 2005.

Councils with development plans cited better ability to analyse and plan to fill gaps in the workforce; improved linking of training with service delivery and more capacity to deal with HR issues such as absences and sickness levels.

The LGE survey highlights the benefits of workforce development in reducing recruitment and retention across all professions in local authorities: the lack of planning in Scotland may have contributed to the problems facing councils in filling posts. But it does not appear – yet – to have improved the recruitment of social workers.

In Scotland, the 21st Century review does appeared to have improved the retention of social workers. Specific social work reviews and strategies do appear to work in keeping hold of professional once they come through the town hall doors; what is needed now is a strategy to get through the doors in the first place.

Further information

Local Government Pay and Workforce Strategy Survey 2006


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