A Head Start for a Career in Social Work; Hertfordshire Is Addressing Its Skills Shortage with Quality Training and Competitive Salaries

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WITH recruitment and retention of social workers, particularly in specialist roles working with children and young people, remaining a key issue across the UK, local authorities are developing innovative training and development packages to attract and keep the best professionals. According to Mike Benaim, head of Social Care East division at Hertfordshire County Council, waving big joining bonus cheques and whacking up salaries isn't enough.

"If you offer all the financial incentives up front people leave within six months," he admits. "As well as awarding salaries which are competitive with other local authorities, we structure the way we offer additional money giving loyalty bonuses for periods of service, for example.

"We were also the forerunners in offering enhanced salaries for professionals in key areas such as assessment, child protection and children with disabilities, as well as offering relocation allowances and flexible working opportunities." For social workers in frontline roles such as assessment, some attrition is inevitable and Hertfordshire is constantly looking for new ways to support staff in these areas. It has therefore developed a training and development programme in association with the University of Hertfordshire.

Ann Lynham, a team manager for Hertfordshire's Looked After Children Service, is also practice assessor for newly qualified social workers and, as such, has been involved in developing the council's new programme, which will be offered to recruits from September.

"Newly qualified social workers can lack confidence," she says. "While their degrees give them a great academic training they can feel vulnerable on the frontline and this programme supports them while they are settling into their new roles.

"It also serves as a refresher course for professionals returning to frontline social work, either after a career break or a period working in another area, such as adult social care." According to Lynham, a newly qualified social worker in Hertfordshire may oversee a case load of 12, rising to 19 or 20 cases for more experienced professionals.

Under this initiative, case loads would be reduced to around six cases for the first six months to giving new staff time to complete the development programme.

She adds: "We began working with the University of Hertfordshire when we started recruiting social care professionals from overseas, helping them to adjust to working in the UK and in Hertfordshire by putting them through an induction programme.

"In many ways, the needs of these three groups

returners, the newly qualified and the overseas qualified are very similar. …