‘How do you retain good social workers? It was never the pay that made me stay’

Councils could better keep social workers by offering professional pathways to develop their skills, not relying on bonus schemes

Picture: Fotolia/DOC RABE Media

by a social worker

With fast-track social work courses receiving government support and, more importantly funding, there’s been much talk about new ways to recruit people into social work.

While all entrants, from all routes bring new experiences and knowledge to the sector, the idea of government favouring particular routes sits uncomfortably with me. The debate on entry routes will continue to get attention. Yet we’ve heard comparatively little about another huge issue facing social work – and it isn’t recruitment, it’s retention.

Bonus schemes aren’t the answer

Social work employers, predominantly still local authorities, continue to show a lack of ambition and forward thinking in their efforts to retain staff.

Just look at the recent news that one council is offering additional money for social workers over three years as part of a recruitment drive. If the best you can do, as a local authority, is to offer a three year cash incentive to social workers joining, you are putting me off joining you for a start.

It’s the social workers who have more than three, six, ten years’ experience that need to be encouraged to stay. In a lot of these cases a couple of thousand pounds, while welcome, would not in itself make a huge difference.

There was nowhere for me to develop

A major problem is that post-qualifying frameworks for social workers are currently messy and less than useful. If you can understand them, you have passed the first test. There’s simply no clear framework to develop social workers and encourage social workers to develop.

I qualified as a social worker 16 years ago. I quit local authority social work (while still working in a similar field) three years ago.

I had done all the relevant post qualifying courses I was going to be funded for. I qualified as an AMHP and BIA, I was a practice educator and took students from local universities but there was nowhere for me to develop on to.

While my pay was pretty good, all things considered, it wasn’t the pay that made me stay. In fact I took a small pay cut when I left. I quit because I saw there was no scope for me to develop further as a social worker who did not have ambitions to be a social work manager.

A professional framework is needed

There were few senior social worker positions in the local authority I worked in. There is no national framework to determine what a ‘senior social worker’ does that is different from any other social worker anyway, and there is no professional progression.

While the focus remains on entry routes into social work and accreditation on qualification, there seem to be few supportive frameworks to look at social work as a profession which supports practice based research and developmental roles beyond management.

There does seem to be some work being done in mental health social work but the lack of cohesiveness across the profession is increasingly worrying.

I wonder where the professional leadership is that actually acknowledges that good social work can only happen where there are experienced practitioners to support new entrants to the field.

Where is the professional leadership saying, ‘actually, we have fantastic social workers and we will support them to grow rather than constantly looking over their shoulders at who we can recruit when they burn out or move on’?

As long as the focus remains on an agenda of social workers not being good enough, we damage the morale of some of the hardest working and highly skilled professionals who have the options to move on to other roles.

Would I return to social work? I’d love to but I’d need to be have an assurance that it there’d be a professional pathway for those who were 20 years qualified as much as those two years qualified. At the moment, that’s sadly lacking.

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5 Responses to ‘How do you retain good social workers? It was never the pay that made me stay’

  1. Speedo March 13, 2016 at 10:37 am #

    The near complete failure by LAs to implement the Munro reforms has served to entrench overt managerialism over professional social work values. We have the constant churn of bureaucrats who parade as SW managers who only exist to address the numbing Ofsted and DfE performance indicator matrices – and that from the tax shelter of their personal service companies. We have almost exclusively overpaid non social work trained Directors of CYPS , the most recent example had a contract that cost £300k pa – no error I promise you. We are also in the era of £1000 per day consultants producing documentation to make LAs look worthy of an unjustified improved Ofsted rating. This whole house of cards is already collapsing across the country. How much of SW now only exists to be the focus of public outrage when the next moral panic about a child death sweeps the sentiment of the nation? Which social worker with any choice about their future would wish to be retained in this web of contorted fabrication of a management gravy train?

  2. Triumphman March 14, 2016 at 11:27 am #

    Although pay does make a big part of the job, it is not why I am a SW. I could do with a bit more money as a genuine remuneration for the responsibility and general pressure of the job. I worked in the transport industry prior to gaining my degree – even as a lorry driver I earnt the equivalent as I do now (hours taken into consideration). Becoming a Trasport manager I earnt more – 15 years ago. However I wont be doing this job in the next few years as there is little career progression, nor support. Other than the dodgy mandatory training through work, my only decent training has been self funded (inc my degree and Practice Educator, as well as external Therapies))

    As lorry driver I knew my progression paths and it was tangeable what i did. That is the issue for me – you could see what i achieved and knew what was happening; my colleagues knew what they were supposed to do and we all had a sense of working together in a team. Very little sickness, no-one cried at work, bullying got stamped on quickly, I had a definite cab (no hot desking), and if anything ever happened, the media didnt slag us all off.

    I have kept my licence up – I may be back there

  3. Anita Singh March 14, 2016 at 2:45 pm #


  4. Kerry March 14, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    I still don’t understand why local authorities decide experienced sw must be encouraged…even forced. ..into management to be able to progress. This refers to both progression on pay scale and in terms of career development. I’m an experienced sw who wants to be rewarded and recognised for the complex work I undertake. I’m a good social worker. I dont want to be a manager. I don’t think being good at the former necessarily assumes. .or shouldn’t anyway. ..you’d be good at the latter. So why do local authorities insist that to access experienced sw roles training and pay, you should be able to demonstrate that desire to be a manager?? Supervising staff…taking students. ..studying PhDs.

  5. Lee March 15, 2016 at 9:41 pm #

    Pay only forms part of the overall package, supervision, practice conditions and the tools and evidence bases that are used are of equal importance. More fundamental and I hear this from both experienced social workers, and newly qualified colleagues is work load and case load, and the ability to undertake direct work with children and their families that promotes outcomes. We also need to get better at recognising the good work we do and acknowledging this in a meaningful manner, thank you means a lot and goes a long way in my humble opinion.

    A clearer social work progression scheme is needed at a both a national and organisational level that provides a clear career structure, that supports and promotes experienced sw staying in direct practice building their expertise.