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Time bomb to hit Social work sector

Britain's social work labour force is a 'demographic time bomb' according to a Social Work subject leader at Sheffield Hallam University.

Experienced and qualified social workers may soon be a rarity as existing employees reach retirement age, unless new blood is encouraged into the work force, according to Jane McLenachan of Sheffield Hallam University. The warning comes during a national recruitment drive by the Department of Health to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to consider a career in social work.

Jane said: "Social work is an extremely challenging job dealing with complex issues for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society. Social workers manage demanding situations, working under extreme pressure with legal responsibilities. Despite the good work social workers do to help families stay together or enable disadvantaged people to live safely in their own communities, they have become an easy scapegoat for the media and society."

A lack of public understanding of the nature of social work, matched with the negativity and dramatising of situations in the news are considered major reasons that the pressures of an already stressful job are becoming compounded. These additional strains are seen to affect staffing issues, which in turn increases pressure.

Jane continues: "We need to urgently address the issues of retention and new recruitment into the industry with more innovative approaches to promoting social work as a valuable and valued career. Currently people go into social work and then often do not stay for any length of time - particularly in more challenging areas such as children's services and mental health.

"More people of all ages and stages in their careers and development need to be encouraged into training to ensure enhancement of diversity and understanding in the sector. Sheffield Hallam University is working with schools and colleges to promote widening access to the industry, particularly in areas such as gender and ethnic diversity. Encouraging boys to think about social work and care is essential and there are a number of male social workers and students who provide excellent role models. We need to enable more people to see that social work occurs in all communities and with people from all backgrounds in society. Challenging the myths and stereotypes of who social workers are and what they do is important.

"Developing the partnership between universities and employers is essential to building a better understanding and appreciation of the needs of contemporary social work and care practice, training and development. Sheffield Hallam's courses introduce students to the values and skills needed to practice in an interprofessional context. They learn alongside students in complimentary professions and graduate with a better understanding of the range of knowledge and skills needed by today's health and social care professionals. This improves appreciation of the diversity of the social work role working across all service user groups, communities, hospitals, residential environments - working in all areas in multi professional settings. "

Sheffield Hallam University has strong principals and commitment to widening participation in training and education, and works closely with student and disability support services to enable students to be able to access courses. This is considered a strong benefit for future employers to recruit and select from a wide range of diverse backgrounds of age, ethnicities and people with disabilities.

Many employers have found effective ways of recruiting via work placements. Students from Sheffield Hallam University, who completed social work courses in 2006, have an excellent recruitment rate of 85% into work related organisations. During their course, students have practice learning experiences in statutory, private and voluntary organisations across the region and are often then offered employment in that organisation as employers like to recruit someone who knows about the organisation and who has demonstrated their commitment and abilities.

Social work staff are involved in a range of international projects and the University is currently leading a programme to establish social work education in former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

Courses run in social work include under-graduate and post-graduate social work degrees; Foundation Degrees in Community & Youth Work and Working with Children, Young People & their Families; BA (Hons) Nursing & Social Work (Learning Disability); MA Collaborative and Therapeutic Work with Children & Young People. The university is also developing post qualifying awards in social work in relation to the new Post Qualifying Award Framework being introduced by the General Social Care Council.

For press information, interviews and case studies of students who have retrained to work in social care and those who are redressing the diversity imbalance: contact the University’s press office on 0114 225 2074

Donna Goodwin | alfa
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