For the past year Gloucestershire County Council has been creating a more flexible and dynamic learning and development offer for experienced adults’ social workers.
“We reviewed our whole offer,” says Jess Beach, principal social worker for adults’ services in Gloucestershire. “We streamlined it, made it more dynamic and ensured it delivers what our social workers want. I can already see the positive difference it’s making when I’m out and about with our teams.”
Here Jess shares some of the changes that have enabled Gloucestershire to build better careers for experienced adults’ social workers:
1. Bite-size training
Continuing professional development (CPD) often boils down to days in the classroom but our social workers felt this traditional approach isn’t always right.
In response we streamlined our classroom training to focus on what is truly useful to social workers. We now run more bite-sized workshops that last an hour or an hour-and-a-half.
These short, focused workshops make training more flexible for social workers and helps them balance their time with training, which in turn allows them to spend more time with service users.
2. Learning at your fingertips
We’ve invested heavily in supporting learning and development outside the classroom. All our practitioners now get access to Community Care Inform, which they can use to access practice guides relevant to their cases whenever they need them.
We’re also encouraging staff to share ideas and their knowledge with other team members. A really nice example is the ‘theory of the month’ meeting in one of our localities where every team member gets to bring a social care theory in and the team then discuss how to apply it in practice.
It’s about going beyond seeing CPD as something that only happens in the classroom and recognising that all of our practitioners can contribute to learning and development.
3. Hassle-free transfers
Lots of social workers want to develop their career without moving into management and that’s something Gloucestershire keenly supports.
We’ve developed clear career paths for staff who want to stay in practice. We’re also helping staff get diverse experiences in their career with an internal transfer scheme that makes it easier to move around teams within the service.
The scheme is open to experienced social workers who have been in their team for at least a year. Instead of making a formal application to move, social workers can now fill out a form with their manager and then the receiving manager works with them to plan the transfer.
We also have a dedicated recruitment and retention coordinator that works with our practitioners to identify how their career can develop.
4. Listening to our social workers
Our CPD offer is driven by feedback from social workers. A lot of what we’ve changed hinged on the feedback from our health check and at every training event we prompt people to give us more feedback.
Our practice development team also spends a lot of time on the ground with our social workers. That way they pick up on areas people don’t feel confident about and gaps in practice. Those insights are then used to plan ahead and further develop our CPD offer.
For example when we learned that people wanted to feel more confident about chairing best interests meetings about complex cases we created workshops on that.
5. Keeping social workers informed
We do a monthly newsletter packed with information that helps our localities connect and share knowledge and insights.
It always includes specific examples social workers can learn from such as a case that’s a bit different or offers some good learning. That way people get the chance to learn from cases they might not encounter day to day. The newsletter also links to further reading such as Community Care Inform practice guides or developments like the Continuing Healthcare framework.
Because the information in the newsletter is useful and relevant to people’s jobs, it has had a very positive impact.
6. Easier access to training
Gloucestershire is quite a large county so we use different venues to make it easier for people in teams that are not centrally based to access training.
To have someone from the Forest of Dean having to attend training in the north Cotswolds, for example, isn’t ideal because the travel means a half-day course requires a whole day out of the office. That makes it harder for people to attend.
So we try to use venues that reduce travel time and also run our training sessions more often so people have more choice of dates to attend.