Social Work England to research profession’s recruitment and retention challenges

Project designed to examine causes and impact of vacancy levels, particularly in councils, and probe role of factors including flexible working and equality and diversity on workforce stability

Colum Conway, chief executive, Social Work England
Colum Conway, chief executive, Social Work England

Social Work England is commissioning research into the profession’s mounting recruitment and retention challenges, particularly in councils.

It has issued a tender of up to £60,000 for researchers to examine the key drivers of high vacancies and help it identify whether there are sufficient social workers to meet demand across all services. This in turn would inform its approach to regulating the profession, it said, given the potential for current workforce pressures to lead to increased levels of risk to the public.

In a blog post published yesterday, chief executive Colum Conway said that “recruitment and retention pressures [were] increasing” and could “undermine the stability of relationships at the heart of good social work practice”.

“We will need to consider how the findings of the research can inform our work in this space, and within the parameters of our role as the regulator,” he added.

Increasing workforce challenge

Latest figures show mounting workforce pressures across both children’s and adults’ services:

Workloads and cost of living among key drivers

Other research has identified several key drivers of these trends, including:

In response, the Department for Education has proposed a number of measures to tackle at least some of these pressures, as part of its children’s social care strategy, published for consultation this week.

The regulator said a key question it wanted to explore was how increasing vacancies have come against the backdrop of stable numbers of social work registrants – about 100,000 – and numbers training to join the profession each year.

Questions for research to answer

Specific issues it wants researchers to examine are:

  • where social workers are moving to when they leave local authority roles, and the reasons for this movement;
  • the factors impacting on employers’ ability to fill permanent social worker vacancies;
  • the impact of social workers’ desires for more flexible working conditions on recruitment and retention;
  • the length of time social workers remain in their first role and their motivations for leaving these;
  • movement between statutory children’s and adults’ services;
  • the impact of vacancies on retaining the existing workforce;
  • to what extent equality, diversity and inclusion have an impact on employers’ abilities to recruit and retain staff.

The deadline to respond to the tender is 5pm on 13 March 2023.

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5 Responses to Social Work England to research profession’s recruitment and retention challenges

  1. Leroy Nicholas February 17, 2023 at 7:26 pm #

    As someone with over 25 years service in the adult care sector, inclusive of working abroad, it has been very frustrating trying to secure employment. In my experience ( I remain unemployed after 7 months of trying) it appears employers, recruitment management are unimaginative in their hiring practices. There also appears to be a bias against part time workers and those over 50. So , in the absence of a “ let’s see what we can do”to have a diverse and flexible workforce, the status quo will remain and people in a similar position to myself will be lost to the service

  2. Harvey Campbell February 20, 2023 at 11:36 am #

    Cynic in me says, save £60K and just read the responses pages on this website.

  3. keithbc6472 February 20, 2023 at 12:14 pm #

    The strain on existing teams is huge and many social workers arrived but do not stay long when they realise the pressures we are under. I feel sorry for my colleagues as i am retiring later in the year. They will have further hardships to endure. I am not sad to be saying ‘ goodbye’

  4. PB SouthEast February 21, 2023 at 10:07 am #

    My local authority remain unimaginative in their approach to ‘part-time’ working. I am attempting to secure the ‘flexible retirement’ plan and it’s like pulling teeth even though the Policy is clear. I am in my later 50’s now and, whilst I am still committed to strong and effective social work, I appreciate that I only have so much energy in a given week and don’t want to carry out poorly planned and managed social work. And yet, because of this procrastination or lack of imagination in creating exciting, but not tiring 25 hour a week posts, I will probably leave earlier than I need to and the local authority looses another worker with over thirty years of experiences. And that loss of experience is noticeable to twenty or more years ago when a worker would like have had around ten years of experience before becoming an advanced practitioner rather than the two or so years which seems the mode in the twenty-first century. I would argue that reflective experience is as useful a skill as a DOLS assessor or AMHP or Practice Assessor but it is not seen as clear tool for the Advanced Practitioner role and thus we keep leaving…

  5. Peter Ponderer February 24, 2023 at 8:28 am #

    I can’t help but feel there’s something uniquely tone deaf about SWE.