Less than one in ten social workers have workload covered when they do training, survey finds

Most social workers happy with training opportunities but rate quality of external training over in-house and online provision, finds Community Care survey

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An overwhelming majority of social workers are expected to manage their own workload while on training, a Community Care survey has found.

Just 8.7% of practitioners said their workload was covered by colleagues (7.9%) or an agency worker (0.8%) when they took time away for training or learning, the survey of 355 practitioners found.

Though half of respondents agreed that they felt supported to take time away from the day job to develop their knowledge and skills, almost a quarter strongly disagreed with this statement.

Several respondents told Community Care employers should provide cover or manage workloads while staff are on training to improve their learning opportunities, including through providing protected time, cover and even reducing caseloads.

Workload barriers

Q: How could your employer improve the quality of training you receive?

  • “Support the SW to have availability and capacity to undertake training”
  • “Defined time each week to access training”
  • “Working on barriers in the day to day work and structures that mean training/learning is difficult to embed”
  • “By supporting me with my workload when I am training”
  • “More resource is required to enable learning to be focused and not distracted by case management or other workload pressures”

How much training?

The survey also found that almost three-quarters of practitioners (72.4%) received five or fewer days of training commissioned or provided by their local authority in the past year, with just over a tenth receiving none at all.

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However, most social workers were happy with the level of opportunities available to them, with 59% agreeing with the statement “my employer provides me with enough opportunities to develop my knowledge and skills”.

Of the quality of training or learning they received, 40.3% said it was good or outstanding and 26.4% inadequate or poor, while one third said it was adequate.

But the survey found big differences in social workers’ views on different types of training. Face-to-face training delivered by external providers was rated the best (65.6% good or outstanding), followed by external conferences and events (51.2% good or outstanding), face-to-face training delivered by internal staff (40.3%) and, lastly, online learning (21.4%).

Concerns over in-house trainers

Some respondents raised concerns that some in-house staff were not sufficiently skilled to deliver training or had been out of practice for too long to be on top of the latest research or to be able to deliver relevant material.

Here’s how they rated the quality of training overall, and by type:

Overall view on training Face-to-face training delivered internally Off-site training External providers Online learning
Inadequate 10.1% 5.6% 2.6% 2% 9%
Poor 16.3% 11.8% 5.7% 3.7% 24.5%
Adequate 33.2% 36.9% 20.2% 21.7% 41.7%
Good 32.7% 37.5% 41.8% 52.4% 19.7%
Outstanding 7.6% 2.8% 9.4% 13.2% 1.7%
N/A 0 5.4% 20.5% 7% 3.4%

The survey revealed a mix of learning and development approaches from employers, with 37.5% of respondents saying the most common form was face-to-face training delivered by internal staff, 35.2% saying face-to-face training delivered by an external provider (35.2%), 18.6% online learning and 4.5% off-site training at conferences or events.

As well as professional development, Community Care asked social workers how they felt their career could develop with their current employer. More than half (54.9%) agreed they could develop their career with their current employer. However, just over half (52.4%) disagreed that there were opportunities for social workers to progress with their employer without becoming a manager, with 34% disagreeing strongly. Community Care’s 2018 survey on social work jobseeking found 75% of practitioners wanted to progress their career without moving into management.

I feel able to develop my career  with my current employer I feel there are opportunities to be supported into a management or more senior management role with my current employer I feel there are opportunities for social workers to progress without becoming a manager with my current employer
Strongly agree 20.1% 15.3% 9.3%
Slightly agree 34.8% 24.9% 25.5%
Neither agree nor disagree 15% 23.2% 12.7%
Slightly disagree 13.9% 17.6% 18.4%
Strongly disagree 16.1% 19% 34%

In addition almost three-quarters (72.8%) did not have a career development plan with 5.4% saying that they did not know whether they had one or not.

The importance of professional and career development to recruitment and retention was made clear by social workers, with 77.7% agreeing that professional development was an important factor on whether to stay with their current employer or join a new one, and 74.7% saying the same for career development.

Impact of funding pressures

Responding to the findings, Rachael Wardell, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services workforce development policy committee, said local authorities were creating the conditions for great social work, however the financial context was “tough”.

“Since 2010 our funding has been halved but need for our help and support has not,” she said. “A lack of resources in the system and rising need for statutory services is likely to be affecting the amount local authorities can spend on anything other than statutory services, despite us knowing that, in the long-term, investing in the workforce is the right thing to do. We hope government heed the messages from the survey too.”

Wardell added: “Local authorities are doing lots of things to help create the conditions for great social work to flourish like ensuring social workers get the support they need, have manageable workloads, and receive regular, reflective supervision where they can raise issues about their work, including their professional development and training needs.

“There is good practice by local authorities in this space and this is evidenced in Ofsted inspection reports, but without clear routes to progression and opportunities for their development, social workers may feel like they have to leave their current job or the profession as a whole, and this is absolutely not what we would want. Without enough, high-quality social workers who are valued and well supported in their role we as directors of children’s services cannot do our job which is to ensure all children in our local area thrive.”

John McGowan, general secretary of the Social Workers Union, said: “If the initial role of education and training is to equip social workers to do the functions of social work then there needs to be a clear strategy and commitment from employers to provide quality and meaningful training throughout a social worker’s journey, relevant to where they are at in their career. Social work employers know that organisations that support social workers have the best staff retention rates and this is clear.”

He added it was “extremely important” to build on the outcomes of the British Association of Social Workers and SWU’s working conditions campaign which had shown “the difficulties faced by social workers and the impact of the lack of training and career development and consequently on their wellbeing”.

“It is now extremely important to build on the outcomes of this work, keep up the momentum and look for tangible, feasible changes which can improve the working conditions for UK social workers.”

Social workers’ views

On improving the quality of training;

“Not expect staff that are not trainers to deliver training to other members of [the] team.”

“More variety. The choice of courses are very stale.”

“More for experienced staff.”

“The majority of our internal training is delivered by people who have been out of direct practice for a long time, and I find a lot of the time this reflects in the quality and relevance of the training. I think it would be better improved by supporting people still in practice to deliver training, or the training team more readily consulting professionals still in practice to ensure their knowledge is up to date and relevant to the work we do at the moment.”

On improving career development;

“Career coaching and opportunities for non-management pathways.”

“Job pathways need to be completed – it’s been talked about so often but nothing has come of it in over 18 months.”

“Have additional responsibilities come with additional pay, rather than doing extra working for nothing.”

“There are few opportunities to access experience in other areas or in managerial roles in my current local authority. If there were more secondment opportunities or opportunities to create progression plans that were effected in practice, I think I’d feel more confident in my career progression here.”

This research was conducted in the form of a self-selecting survey advertised and promoted on Community Care. In total, 355 social workers in England completed the survey.

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One Response to Less than one in ten social workers have workload covered when they do training, survey finds

  1. F Cliffe July 26, 2019 at 1:42 pm #

    Training needed to deliver the service expected and deserved for social work to be credible for the community.