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Social workers: how to recruit and retain the best

Written by: Sonia Tanda is director of business development at Penna
Published on: 10 Mar 2022

At Penna we are always looking at ways we can support local authorities and provide help and guidance. On 24 February we ran a webinar for social care professionals where one of our experienced coach and mentors from Penna’s sister company LHH shared some insights and practical tips on how to manage mental health and be resilient during challenging times.

During the session we heard first hand from social workers about the current pressures of the profession. In particular, many highlighted the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. Staff shortages and last minute changes to processes are all adding to the toll taken on social care workers.

While many councils are advocating mental health and wellbeing programmes there are still issues with high caseloads and attracting and retaining good social workers.

The current market suggests there is not much candidate movement, with many organisations receiving low levels of interest and applications. Local authorities are also facing challenges holding onto their top social workers; with some being attracted elsewhere by outstanding offers, and others leaving the sector altogether.

Here are some of my views on key themes to assist in sparking interest in your vacancies.

1. Mental health and wellbeing – is your offer clear?

As our recent webinar demonstrated, there’s a real need in the sector for mental health and wellbeing support for our overworked social care professionals. 

It’s time to spell out what is clearly on offer at your authority. What support do your social workers get? How do you ensure their wellbeing is managed and what tools and resources are you using?

2. Refresh your employer brand proposition

If you’ve not done this already, it’s time to review your attraction strategy and employer brand proposition. How are your perceived externally? Is your messaging resonating with what current social workers are looking for? For instance, do you appear flexible and caring to the outside world?

3. Have you tried an ‘always-on’  approach?

Many social workers are what’s known as ‘passive candidates’, they’re not actively looking for work – but, equally, they are not uninterested in new opportunities.

An always-on approach and consistent brand awareness using both paid and organic advertising will ensure you as an organisation remains top of the mind when a social worker is looking for their next role, or idly browsing the internet or social media. Generating brand awareness regularly has proven to build rapport with brands. Running ads on social media and programmatic channels will broaden awareness over a sustained period, so that when specific vacancies are opened, the candidate market is already better informed about your organisation and therefore more likely to consider applying. 

Once you’ve captured a candidate’s initial interest, you must work to keep it. Creating a social media calendar with key employer brand content is becoming important, as candidates crave information on their next employer.

4. Get serious about flexible working

We know social workers are predominately on the frontline and saying you offer flexible working will just not cut it now that everyone is offering this. It’s time to be specific on what this looks like. For instance, can desk work be done from home, or do you offer flexitime? What investments have you made in technology that may enable more agile and flexible working?

5. Invest in your careers site

Every page of your careers site should provide a positive candidate experience. Application processes should be seamless, with very little required from the candidate. After all, their time is precious. We often recommend having a rapid application form with few stages to obtain core details. Having a live chat functionality helps support candidates with questions they may have and further provides a positive experience.

Your careers site needs strong content also. Blogs help increase traffic to websites through improved SEO rankings and helps link candidates to websites organically. Having personable blog content related to you as an authority sharing advice and insights from real employees will strengthen your employer brand presence within the marketplace.

Similarly, have you shown enough information about your people? Many social workers want information on the teams they will be working for. A section on the website that shows off the team and their talents will create a connection which is much needed in helping social workers decide on whether to apply or not.

There are a record number of vacancies live right now for social workers and in a candidate driven market these are challenging times for the sector. Recruiting social workers is harder than ever before, many good social workers are currently working, thriving, and doing very well. These candidates will be passive, convincing them to join you is much harder. Can we help you?

Sonia Tanda is director of business development at Penna