Agency sector report shortages of experienced staff

Research highlights problems getting temporary social workers with more than four years’ experience onto books as demand from councils increases

A survey of 58 social work agencies who supply temporary staff has found nearly all are struggling to recruit enough experienced social workers to keep pace with demand.

Despite widespread reports of permanent staff moving into agency work in an attempt to control their work/life balance and get better pay, agencies say they are still struggling to recruit

Two-thirds reported they had low or very low numbers of senior practitioners available. Overall demand for qualified temporary staff is expected to increase by at least 10% in 2015.

Pay rates pushed up

The shortfall means vacancies are often taking longer to fill. Suitable candidates can in some cases set their own price and 60% of agencies say this is pushing pay rates upwards.

“Local authorities can run the risk of panicking if they are under-resourced and will take on any number of temporary qualified staff at any price,” said Jamie Eaton, head of marketing and insight at Comensura, the temporary labour supply management company who conducted the research.

NQSWs struggling to get experience

However, there is an oversupply of newly qualified workers with almost half saying they had higher or very much higher numbers than required on their books. Newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) are therefore struggling to gain experience.

“Understandably, local authorities are demanding increasing numbers of social workers with experience who can ‘hit the ground running’ and take responsibility for a caseload with minimal supervision and training. The downside of this is it creates barriers to entry for NQSWs,” said Eaton.

The report recommended local authorities look at the advantages of using temporary NQSWs as they were often much cheaper and more flexible. “Most of them will also have statutory placement experience and can be supported by experienced practitioners,” the report said.

NQSWs could be effective in areas of anticipated extra need – for example in adults’ settings, the additional demands of the Care Act have seen some councils recruiting temporary new social workers to clear assessment backlogs and non-complex case loads.

Collaboration and consistency

Eaton pointed to some examples of change where local authorities were collaborating with each other and agencies to place newly qualified workers and ensure they get the support they need.

The report recommends councils work together to agree similar pay rates and benefits to avoid experienced social workers being attracted to nearby authorities.

The research advises local authorities to have complete visibility about pay rates to ensure efficient use of temporary workers across their organisation. “They should look at areas where there is low candidate availability and whether they can change the mix of workers’ experience level in order to have a more stable workforce,” suggested Eaton.

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