Social work could face a major staff shortage in the future unless there is a “fundamental improvement” to working conditions and the profession’s status, Unison has warned.
Community Care’s exclusive research on pay and conditions, carried out in association with the public services union, points to a major potential staff shortage as the workforce ages.
Average age of 48
Only 11% of respondents were aged under 35, while 25% were 55 or over, and the average age was 48.
According to previous Community Care research published in April, 13% of children’s social workers posts were vacant, as were 12% of adults’ social work posts.
There was an average vacancy rate of 10.9% across the 96 councils in England that responded to the research, with London authorities suffering the most with 18.6% of posts vacant.
Warning over increased demand for care
Responding to the latest research, Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care, said a future shortage was “especially worrying when looked at alongside the likelihood of increasing demand for social care services”.
The latest research also revealed that two-thirds of respondents were actively seeking a new job or browsing the jobs market, and 8% of those expected their next job to be outside the social care sector.
In addition, 40% of respondents were able to find their current role within a month of starting their search for a job, suggesting there were plenty of jobs available.
Efforts to boost staff numbers
Eleni Ioannides, vice chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ workforce development policy committee, said it was “worried about potential workforce shortages”, but pointed to efforts to boost the number of new staff, including graduate recruitment and the “return to social work” scheme for people who have left the profession.
Jon Sutcliffe, principal strategic adviser at Local Government Employers, said encouraging experienced social workers to return to the profession could provide extra support for new entrants, while there also needed to be major improvements to the current “piecemeal approach” to student placements.
Pay and conditions survey: Social workers have job satisfaction despite working conditions