Shropshire Star

Number of social workers falls despite council recruitment drive

The amount of social workers leaving Shropshire Council has fallen in the past year, up to date figures show.

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In the final quarter of the previous year the turnover of adult social workers was running at nearly 20 per cent, meaning around a fifth of the workforce had moved on.

But for the same period in 2023/34 staff turnover percentages for both adults and children's social workers fell to below 5 per cent, with annual figures also showing significant drops, which the authority says is “encouraging”.

Social services teams at Shropshire Council have been engaged in a recruitment drive as the authority steps up efforts to hire more permanent staff and reduce its reliance on agency workers, who cost the council in the region of 25 per cent to 30 per cent more than in-house staff.

However, the council faces “significant challenges” in recruiting the amount of social workers it needs, amid a national shortage of candidates for social services roles, reports presented to the council’s People Overview Scrutiny Committee this week show.

“High stress, high demand and high burnout are reported as being the main causes of the crisis as social workers struggle to cope with more challenging case-loads following the [coronavirus] pandemic and cost of living crisis,” said the paper by Sam Williams, assistant director for workforce and improvement.

“This has resulted in many social workers also leaving the profession altogether or leaving permanent roles to work on an interim basis with agencies, giving them added flexibility of being able to move from authority to authority when they wish.

“Over the past two years work to reduce reliance on agency social workers has taken place. There was a peak of 48 agency workers several years ago, whereas we are currently at 31, a reduction of 17.

“Workforce planning is key to addressing the challenges longer term, attracting a younger, diverse workforce, creating career progression pathways so that employees want to stay with the council.”

Annual turnover rates for children's social workers fell to 3.44 per cent in the past year, down from pre-Covid levels of 13.3 per cent, while adult social workers also fell to 9.83 per cent from 13.73 per cent.

The authority is placing emphasis on an apprenticeship scheme for aspiring social workers, with locally trained workers shown to be less likely to move between authorities.

A total of 23 apprentices have been recruited to Shropshire Council’s Social Worker Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship programme over the past four years, with the majority going on to secure permanent roles with the authority, the committee was told.

Councillor Duncan Kerr called for deeper analysis on why people were leaving the council – and told the committee the council needed to “turbo-charge” efforts to recruit trainees at the beginning of their career.

“One of the surest ways of getting a sustainable workforce is to grow your own, and we’ve got a programme for that,” he said.

“It was being suggested that [the trainee programme] could be doubled, well I don’t understand why it hasn’t been doubled and then some, because clearly the very best way is to get local people trained as social workers as they’re far more likely to stay in the local community.”