Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Use of In-Basket Exercises for the Recruitment of Advanced Social Service Workers

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

The Use of In-Basket Exercises for the Recruitment of Advanced Social Service Workers

Article excerpt

Introduction and Purpose

The purpose of this project was to develop an in-basket examination that could effectively be used for the recruitment and training of advanced social service workers. Cooperative Personnel Services (CPS), a self-supporting public agency that provides human resource services to the public and nonprofit sectors, sponsored the development of this examination. The agency serves approximately one-half of the counties in the State of California. Many of these counties include rural and suburban communities. Employed social service workers and administrators participated in two pilot studies. Professional raters then assessed the candidates' examination packages.


The in-basket exercise has been used for many years in both the public and private sectors. This tool has been used primarily to recruit management level personnel in business, educational and government settings. Such "Day in the Life" examinations have been used in industry since the 1950's, concurrent with the development of Personnel Assessment Centers. Assessment centers have been criticized in relation to measurement problems since at least 1982. For example, one question that is addressed in this paper is whether it is best to rate tasks or dimensions? (1) In an historic context, the first industrial use of job simulation exercises in the United States was conducted at AT&T in the 1950's and then used in the 1970s to seek out qualified school administrators. (2) The preceding educational assessment center model was jointly instituted in 1975 by the National Association of School Principals and the American Psychological Association. There appears to have been sparse development or use of in-basket examinations for the recruitment or training of social service workers.

Rationale for Project

One of the problems identified by the U.S. Government Accounting Office (USGAO, 2003) involved recruiting and retaining social workers in the United States. (3) A subsequent report indicated that state administrators identified caseworker recruitment and retention as the number two problem in the U.S. child welfare system (USGAO, 2006). (4) In addition, a turnover study by the County Welfare Directors Association of California found that within a 5-year period, 79.5% of the social workers that carried child caseloads left the agency within the first five years of employment and 85% of these workers did so on a voluntary basis. (5) One-quarter of these workers left the agency for another job and another quarter left due to retirements and promotions. This resulted in a sizeable gap and negatively impacted the affected agencies. The largest turnover group involved Journey level workers with Master's' Degrees, the group with the most formal expertise in the field and the group, targeted for this study.

A literature review (Center for Human Services, 2007), specific to the recruitment and retention of child welfare social workers in rural communities, identified factors that may influence this problem. (6) The review identified lower pay and benefits; extended hours; lack of qualified job applicants who appeared inadequately educated or knowledgeable as to how to work in rural communities; a lack of adequate support, resources and equipment to do their jobs, and high community visibility. Other factors that may influence the problem of retaining social workers include a lack of promotional opportunities, supervisory and organizational practices and personal matters that cannot be institutionally controlled.

As a result, Cooperative Personnel Services (CPS) instituted the development of a written in-basket examination designed to present a realistic and simulated sampling of social work job assignments. CPS instituted this project, in part, predicated on the presumption that many of these new workers entered the field with an unrealistic understanding of what these jobs entailed. …

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