There are few upsides to the situation we find ourselves in, and this is particularly the case for social care. The sector has been struggling to balance a rising need in both adults and children’s services with budgetary pressures, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated this. Recruitment of experienced social workers is another difficulty councils country-wide are grappling with. Turning to agency workers has worked short-term, but the financial implications can’t be borne in the long run.
A ray of light for the sector is the increased interest in vacancies which the COVID crisis has created. On our recent webinar with Glen Garrod, the executive director of adult care and community wellbeing at Lincolnshire CC, and Rachael Wardell, the director of children, schools and families at Merton LBC, we discussed how the sector should capitalise on this to make the most of the recruitment opportunities right now.
For Glen Garrod, it is the case that ‘the national gratitude element is focusing in on social care as much as it is the NHS. While that profile of goodwill exists we must make the most of it, particularly with a longer-term view. Social care has too often struggled to have a public narrative. That has changed during COVID-19’.
Rachael Wardell spoke to a different snapshot within children’s social care. Media coverage and central government focus has meant that ‘COVID is not regarded as a children’s issue. Yet children have become far more likely to experience hidden harm during this time. By being at home and unseen, risk levels have increased for vulnerable young people. The impact of this disruption to their wellbeing is likely to play out over time’.
This lack of focus on the impact of COVID-19 on children, in comparison to the much-reported effects on vulnerable adults, has meant that, in Rachael’s view ‘for the workforce, it’s not currently so high-profile. But the importance of the work they’re doing is still there, even if it is not immediately visible. We’re also seeing more family support work, more youth work and youth justice work’.
There’s a continuing need to recruit to these roles in Rachael’s London authority, and regionally too. Harnessing the increased interest in the sector in the most constructive way possible must become a priority for councils. In Glen’s experience, ‘councils are continuing their process of recruitment. A lot are looking at digital ways to engage with applicants online and on digital – moving away from interviews and face to face assessments’.
Rachael has also seen the benefits of a digital approach to recruitment in children’s social care: ‘Recruitment is a continuing need right now, and we’re doing this virtually. From engaging candidates, to interviewing, to induction and even first interactions with children – all of this is done remotely. And interestingly, the move to a more online connection has been welcomed by many children.’
The move to digital is certainly a trend we’re seeing at Penna. Our team in executive search have appointed to 50+ roles entirely online in lockdown. And we are seeing it as a trend in our social work clients.
Experienced social worker recruitment has traditionally been done through job boards. The challenge here is these websites only reach 20% of the social worker workforce. The other 80% are passive candidates, they might not be actively job searching – but your authority will want to attract them to your roles anyway. Some 79% of job searches start on Google – so take your thinking digital. Now is the time to harness your budgets, and make sure you’re targeting proactively and efficiently online through paid social and programmatic advertising.
One of the main learnings to come out of the webinar was to try something new when the purse strings are tight – it may well pay off. Now is the time to capitalise on the ‘clapping for our carers’ goodwill. Spend your budgets wisely, think strategically about your social worker recruitment strategy. Think about your benefits, and what makes you unique.
It’s time to tell your story. Do it right, and you’ll find you’re recruiting great social workers for the long term.
Maggie Hennessy is a director in Penna’s executive search function and Sonia Tanda is Penna’s attraction strategy specialist, with expertise in experienced social worker recruitment