The cost of vacancies

Community Care published some research they carried out yesterday which found that there is a 10.9% vacancy rate for social workers in England – rising to 18.6% vacancy rate in London.

They also publish a breakdown of individual councils – at least those that responded.  Of course I checked up on my own local authority and while it provided interesting thoughts, it would be quite easy to pick up on so I’ll pass on that one for the moment – except to say that it pretty much keeps up with the general average.

One of the more interesting statistics though that came out of the study is that the vacancy rate for adult social work posts is just about the same as that for children’s social work posts.

image theogeo at Flickr

Although it doesn’t surprise me on an anecdotal level, I’m almost surprised anyone sees fit to notice.  While social work remains a profession committed to work with some of the more disenfranchised sections of society at least children can pull on more emotive heartstrings than some of the users of adult services.

Of course, tragedy and failings should not, alone, inform policy and practice – although learning from mistakes is a key – but it does and a picture of a child will create much more national outrage than a photo of an older person who has been subject to no less horrific levels of abuse.

As is pointed out in Community Care

The similar vacancy rates for adults and children’s social workers follows massive investment in the children’s workforce that has not been replicated in adult care.

This particular story has immediate resonance for me currently. Our team is short of a couple of social workers. It has been short of a couple of social workers (as well as an OT and a nurse) for many months.

The real effect of this is that the workloads increase at an almost dangerous rate. Having had this conversation with a manager yesterday, the reasons for non-recruitment are not related to lack of resources, but rather to lack of suitable applicants.

This is perhaps another argument in itself. The department don’t feel that that can appoint someone who does not have experience because the level of work is currently operating at a high rate and they would rather have someone ‘slot in’ but – had they gone for someone who had little experience but a lot of potential, well, 6 months ago, that person would potentially be easily competent in the period that it might have taken to employ someone with more experience.

It is frustrating beyond belief at the moment. It seems like a very short-sighted and management-led way to problem-solve because there is no appreciation of the ground level work that needs to be done to maintain a safe level of practicing.

It reaches a stage where people are not able to take on new pieces of work or accept allocations and that is where we are beginning to feel the tension. Each time a worker tries to explain why we are not able to accept any more work, that is another individual, another family, who may be in desperate need of contact who are being left to wait.

Hopefully, the survey will promote some more attention onto vacancies across the sector and somehow the local authorities will actually see the need to take some kind of action.  In fact, that is a point that is well made in The Social Work Blog which states

If councils really want to solve their recruitment problems, providing suitable placements for students or rethinking their approach to extra training for recent graduates. The current, defensive but understandable, stance of wanting to recruit only experienced staff requires a radical rethink because that supply is simply not there at present.

This is exactly the scenario we are seeing played out on a ground level.

Something does have to change but I have to say, I’m not holding my breath.

4 thoughts on “The cost of vacancies

  1. I’ve seen this approach in engineering jobs too. Managers see how long it will take to train someone new (not only the time for the new person, but the time it takes from more experienced guys to go help and guide them) and can’t justify it in budgets. Because when you commit to training someone, you actually end up with less resource while they are training (because your experienced guys need to spend time doing it) in return for getting more resource later.

    I think you’re right, it’s very short termism. But it’s very endemic.

  2. I just looked up vacancies in my neck of the woods Suffolk County Council.Was surprised to see how high the vacancy rate was – somehow expected it to be considerably lower, though don’t know why (though not as bad as some areas) . In agreement with you that LA’s will finally see the need to take some action regarding vacancies, although I guess is much down to government funding.
    Sis xxx

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  4. Spinks – I hadn’t thought of that but it really is true across the board.
    Seratonin Sister – I was also surprised by our vacancy rates actually even though I see it on a daily basis! I expect the local authorities could do a lot more if they really wanted to

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