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Improving the recruitment and retention of quality social workers

We know how challenging recruiting and retaining social workers is, and how vital their work is.

Here at Penna, we want to help, not just in Social Work Week, but all 52 weeks of the year. So, here’s some insights into how we’re helping find, excite, and secure social workers for our local authority clients

Improving the recruitment and retention of quality social workers

The plight of social workers has been well documented – an area of work that’s understaffed, underfunded, and underappreciated. We’ve seen the real challenges faced, none more so than during Covid-19 and the pressure they’re under to get it right for the vulnerable children and adults they support.

Working closely with local authorities on their recruitment challenges, from executive to frontline including social work, we’re privileged to work with many inspirational leaders who are enacting change across local authorities, in Children’s Services, Adult Services and more, to improve the perceptions and realities of the amazing work social workers do.

With increased turnover, major skill shortages and 6% of social workers leaving the profession every year, it’s clear that more needs to be done for social work to be a career of choice and to develop and retain them for the long term.

How to attract quality social workers

Whilst busy Social Workers are usually deemed as ‘passive candidates,’ i.e., they’re not actively looking for work, our research has shown us that social workers are however still curious and do keep an eye on what’s happening in the employment market. We’ve seen good success with effective paid media promotion (across social media, jobs boards and more) which is perfect for individually targeting passive candidates about new job opportunities.

When it comes to thinking longer term, an always on, talent pool approach is best. We’ve found success with our clients through shifting from reactive postings of roles (i.e., when there is a specific opportunity) to proactive, longer term recruitment marketing and building sustained brand awareness. This is where a distinctive Employer Value Proposition (EVP) is essential – your narrative on why social workers should choose your organisation.

At a time when most employers are promoting inclusion, purpose and hybrid working as their value propositions, standing out becomes the challenge. Through our research we’ve learned that EVPs need to be flexible and resonate with Social Workers specifically and respond to their wants and needs. But they are highly interested in what makes your work approach and authority unique.

So, how do you differentiate yourself in the marketplace?

From our work across the UK, we have developed an approach that helps us understand the organisation, the culture, the offer, the issues and develop cohesive solutions that look at every element of the role, the offer and brand. Research is key to success.

In a recent project to develop a strong brand for a large authority we focussed on both internal and external audience insights. Our research and insights team collected data from internal and external focus groups and desk research, resulting in a diverse range of views, gaining the widest perspectives and insights. From this we were able to identify potential recruitment challenges and barriers. Our brand strategy was then developed to help differentiate the authority in the market, whilst tackling the issues identified from the research - especially the misconceptions that needed addressing.

One of those misconceptions for this authority was that they were not strong on diversity and inclusion and yet the internal research said exactly the opposite, with staff identifying EDI as one of their employers’ strengths. Our solution took care of this, and a strong EVP was developed with clear evidence of the EDI work, and strong messaging about their mission to create a workforce representative of their community.

Additionally, the research with prospective candidates highlighted a gap in knowledge about the authority and its culture and work – this lack of information was preventing qualified candidates from applying, so our campaign addressed this issue head on, and a longer-term marketing approach used to raise the profile in the QSW market.

Research = understanding = tailored solutions.

Why an EVP is essential for recruiting and retaining staff

Building messaging based on evidence and understanding is essential, and your EVP needs to be clear about the lived employee experience not the desired experience. Candidates want the EVP to be lived through and beyond the attraction and selection stages. An EVP needs to be observed in your selection process, the interviews the online and offline activities as well as on arrival and through onboarding.

Once employer brands are activated, we advocate consistent evaluation and refinement based on learning. A flexible EVP is key to respond to a highly changing, fast-paced candidate driven market.

A strong EVP is the foundation of your resourcing strategy, from which all other activity builds – so if you haven’t got one, you’re proud of we hope Social Work week will act as a reminder to add it to the do list.

In support of Social Work Week 2023 we’re offering free consultation, sharing our experience sessions with our EVP team so if you need to review your current attraction strategy or employer brand contact to find out more.

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