Social work graduates choose agency work to limit stress

An increasing number of social work graduates are choosing agency work because of fears that permanent local authority posts will be too stressful, a recruitment expert has said.

The General Social Care Council’s annual report on social work education for 2008-9, published last week, found 11% of newly qualified social workers in England were moving into agency work compared with 6% in 2006-7.

Tracey Newcomb, associate director of Cardea Resourcing, said graduates may have been put off from applying for permanent positions by negative experiences on placements as part of the social work degree.

“Newly qualified practitioners have reported that they feel they will ‘suck it and see’ by joining an agency to test the water,” said Newcomb, whose company places social workers with local authorities. “They also feel that being with an agency gives them the freedom and flexibility to move on if it’s too difficult.”

Newcomb added: “There is an ever increasing perception among students that the work is stressful and unrewarding, while people undertake their training with a positive attitude, negative placement experiences can affect this greatly.”

Graduate unemployment

The GSCC’s report found that 18% of graduates said they were unemployed, down on the 23% reported for 2007-8. Only two-thirds of graduates – around 3,000 – reported finding a job within six months. Nearly 2% said they found work between six and 12 months after graduating, 1% took longer than a year, while nearly 30% failed to declare an employer.

Newcomb said the increased focus on child protection within local authorities and pressures on teams to meet targets influenced employers’ recruitment policies.

“Additionally high levels of sickness, poor performance and vacancies mean they often need to recruit social workers who can hit the ground running. Sadly, there are many newly qualifieds who would bring more quality to the role than someone who may have more experience.”

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which represents directors at 152 English councils, warned that the perceptions of greater freedom offered by employment through an agency should be balanced by the reality of “reduced stability and support”.

Support programmes

The government is funding support programmes for newly qualified social workers for their first year of practice in councils across England through the Children’s Workforce Development Council and Skills for Care. Dave Hill, policy lead on social work reform for the ADCS, said these were designed to “lead social workers seamlessly into post-qualifying training and development”.

“Extra supervision and reduced caseloads should relieve fears that going straight into a statutory setting is too stressful,” Hill said. “In fact it should be an encouraging and supportive environment for social workers to hone their skills and develop a wide range of experiences.”

A spokesperson for Skills for Care said it was taking a flexible approach to working with newly qualified agency staff, but no agreed process is in place yet.

“Our position is that we should be working to ensure any NQSW can benefit from the framework support,” the spokesperson said, adding that it was working with recruitment agencies to find a solution.

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