By Dot Smith
Step Up has been a fantastic initiative. When it started in 2010, the whole country was suffering from not being able to recruit social workers in children and families because of the bad press social workers were getting from cases like Victoria Climbié and Baby P. I’m told there were only a handful of applications for children’s social worker posts at Sheffield; it was very problematic.
Local authorities survived on agency workers and of course that affected the market because agencies could then ask whatever price they wanted. The hourly rate went through the roof and that was having an impact on budgets.
Step Up has resolved those recruitment and retention issues in the Yorkshire and Humberside region. Last summer, when cohort two had just graduated, we had 92 applications for around 10 jobs.
Sheffield is the lead authority for the Yorkshire and Humberside regional Step Up partnership. We don’t employ the Step Up candidates on a contract; they’re students. We wanted to encourage people who were unemployed as well as in different careers to consider social work. We don’t guarantee employment of students when they graduate, whereas some partnerships do. But the calibre of students is so high: we’ve done a benchmarking exercise and you can see a marked difference between Step Up and general university candidates. I would say 98% have gained employment in their host authority.
The next problem is how do we retain people. And that’s where we’re still suffering: we don’t get many applications from experienced social workers, so we end up with a host of newly qualifieds who need a lot of support and attention.
Sheffield has a career pathway and we employ consultant social workers to mentor newly qualified social workers. We have a three-year early professional development training programme and social workers have to complete a portfolio. Until March 2012, we got money from the Department for Education to help towards that and a grant to pay for four of the social work consultants, but that grant ceased with all the budget cuts last year. However, Sheffield decided to keep those consultants in post. Our director at the time decided Sheffield would invest heavily in the training and development of social workers. He was a huge advocate.
The career pathway has definitely helped with retention. There are some other authorities in the Yorkshire and Humberside region now that maybe are not investing as much money and they are losing social workers. Our Ofsted feedback in November is that we’re a shining example of workforce development, purely because we’ve got that career structure.