On The Fast Track…

Care Appointments headed out on the Fast Track in the company of Maggie Tierney, Head of Workforce Intelligence & HR in the Social Work Services Policy Division of the Scottish Executive…

When Care Appointments Scotland caught up with Maggie Tierney we first of all asked her how the Fast Track recruitment process had been coming along.

“Since its inception, the Scheme has been generating a large number of high-quality applicants. The Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education (SIESWE), who are administering the Scheme, confirm that employers are very pleased with the calibre of person coming into social work through the FT route. These new FT graduates are bringing a wider range of background experience to the sector and the profession than would otherwise be available.

“Numbers of eligible applicants have steadily increased each year, as the Scheme becomes established.
2003: over 1,000 applicants, 97 appointed
2004: over 1,600 applicants, 122 appointed
2005: over 1,700 applicants, 106 appointed

“The numbers who are applying for FT places demonstrates conclusively that there is a genuine appetite out there for a career in social work. The Fast Track Scheme, and other Executive initiatives such as the long-running Care in Scotland campaign, help refute the claim sometimes made that ‘nobody wants to do social work’. A surprisingly high number of people do Ð and perhaps only need a fairly modest level of financial and organisational support to make the transition to becoming highly-attractive newcomers to the profession.

“If the conditions are made right to help graduates of other disciplines transfer into social work, there are plenty of highly-motivated people who are willing to apply.”

Tierney is quick to point out, however, that Fast Track is not a ‘magic wand’ solution to the challenge of social worker recruitment.

“The FT Scheme is not without its difficulties, of course, and we’re actively keeping under review how to ensure it melds well (both financially and organisationally) with other internal schemes employers are developing either to grow-their-own or to recruit externally. But the important thing to remember here is that neither we nor employers see Fast Track as the single ‘silver bullet’ that will fix the social worker recruitment problem. FT is just one of a suite of measures to help improve both the quality and numbers of qualified social workers in Scotland. FT is not antithetical to, say, grow-your-own schemes: the two can, and should, co-exist quite easily within an organisation. And we are interested in exploring with employers how to balance our financial support for the FT Scheme with other innovative measures for growing the national pool of qualified social workers.

“Thinking about innovation, one of the most interesting effects of the Executive’s FT Scheme is that we are seeing many employers now developing their own FT and grow-your-own programmes, each tailored to suit their own circumstances. We and SIESWE are very keen to learn more about the detail of employers’ own schemes, so that we can look again at the national FT Scheme to help make it more fully compatible with employers’ core interests while continuing to meet Ministers’  key objectives of introducing additional vibrant new talent into social work by a non-traditional route.{mospagebreak}

So, looking back on Fast Track’s performance to date, does Tierney believe that it has achieved pass marks?

“Given the growth in demand for qualified social workers in recent years, the FT Scheme is having a significant and immediate impact on helping supply catch up with demand. The first group of 97 FT graduates from the original pilot programme have now taken up post (the majority in hard-pressed Children & Families teams). We are producing about 240 new social workers annually from undergraduate social work degree courses, a further 100 or so new postgraduates per year, and to these we can currently add about 100+ additional FT graduates to help swell the numbers of newly-qualified social workers coming on-stream to around 440 each year.

“This is quite a success story, and we’re heartened to see the national vacancy rate for qualified social workers continuing to fall. At April 05, it was standing at 10% or 503 vacancies nationally but it has fallen by a full 3% since Oct 2003. This significant fall is due, in no small measure, to schemes such as Fast Track as well as to the array of other measures being introduced by employers and by the Executive to redress the acute problems of social worker recruitment that we saw a few years ago.

“We think this Scheme has been important, innovative and essentially successful.”

While it’s clear that there is a degree of satisfaction from the Executive at how Fast Track has performed thus far, Maggie Tierney is realistic and honest enough to admit that there is room for improvement.

“Some challenges remain in improving the fit between the national FT Scheme and other employer-led schemes, and in addressing some of the capacity and funding issues amongst employers that the experience of the last 2 years is gradually revealing. But we’re looking forward to investigating detailed solutions with employers as our thinking evolves on supporting the broader staff development and upskilling agenda which has a profound impact on all social services staff, not just qualified social workers.”{mospagebreak}

Historically, one commonly held belief has been that the image of the profession has deterred many new recruits. We asked Maggie what she considered to be the main challenges in changing people’s perceptions of a career in the sector

“As I mentioned earlier, the FT Scheme is proof-positive that qualified social work is seen as an attractive career option. But it’s important to remember that qualified social workers are a very small fragment of the total social care labour force. Out of an estimated workforce of 118,000+, only about 7,000 or so (by headcount) are qualified social workers.

“There is still a major challenge in changing people’s perceptions of working in social care. For example, our recent evaluation of Phase 3 of the Care in Scotland campaign found that while there is a very high and positive recognition of the importance and worth of social care work, 75% of those interviewed thought that social care staff are poorly paid for the work they do and there is too much pressure and stress in their jobs. However, over time, the campaign is having a positive impact on changing people’s perceptions. Since our first independent evaluation in 2002, we find that more people now agree that working in care services provides an interesting and varied career and that theyÕd encourage someone they knew to take up a social care job.

“The ongoing and highly successful Care in Scotland campaign is, of course, the main advertising and PR recruitment and profile-raising platform we’ve set up to alter perceptions in favour of the varied employment and career development opportunities in social care. But we also provide specific grant to particular social care projects, and we have recently won additional ESF funds to assist the social care workforce in the Highlands & Islands area (Objective1 area) to gain qualifications. This funding extends the current Achieving the Challenge project that covers the whole of Scotland. Achieving the Challenge is playing a key role in upskilling social care staff especially amongst residential childcare workers, heads of adult day care services and heads of adult residential care homes.” {mospagebreak}

The scheme has had its critics, with sceptical comments and some negative reporting appearing in certain areas of the media. With this in mind, and in the interests of balance, Care Appointments Scotland asked Maggie Tierney to put the case for Fast Track by giving us five good reasons why a graduate should consider a career in this sector:

Social work puts you in the right place, with the right supports, to ‘make the difference’ to help people challenge the circumstances they find themselves in. In doing this, you’ll also find yourself growing in confidence, competence and experience. The strapline to our CiS campaign is ‘life-changing work’ –  and that means life-changing for you, as well as for the clients you support.

“The Fast Track scheme enables you to get a professional qualification while being employed and receiving a salary, and it guarantees you a permanent post on qualification.

“Social work offers a well-paid and highly varied career. Starter salaries for newly-qualified graduates range from £19,000 to £27,000, and there are many (and growing!) opportunities for career progression and/or for specialising in particular areas such as children & families, community care services, and services with offenders.

“Many, if not most, of the skills you’ll acquire as a qualified social worker are transferable and can take you into other occupations and work settings (either on a secondment basis, or more permanently) which put a premium on calm analysis coupled with high EQ and excellent people skills.

Being a social worker puts you right at the heart of work which involves several other professionals and occupational groups, such as police, health, education and housing people. As a social worker you’ll have an unparalleled bird’s-eye view of these other occupational fields, and you can use this breadth of view to continuously improve how you and your employer deliver social services to those who most need them.{mospagebreak}

So, five good reasons then. With this in mind, we wondered what Maggie thought the profile of the ideal FT candidate might be like…

“ÒThere are probably as many ideal characteristics – all of them different – as there are social worker posts. And social work is no different from other exciting career choices: there’s loads of scope for people with different strengths to find their niche and thrive, before moving on to develop themselves in some other area.

Here are just some:

– Someone who has a real commitment to forming positive relationships with people and who appreciates the differences between individuals

– Someone who is flexible, is a good communicator and has the ability to listen sympathetically

– Someone who demonstrates an enthusiasm to gather the skills needed for a career in social work, has good self-confidence and is committed to personal development

– Someone who has the ability to distinguish fact from opinion, to evaluate the risks associated with actions and to work within professional boundaries

– Someone who is emotionally balanced and has a strong sense of humour – sometimes the job can be very physically and emotionally stressful

We asked Maggie how much the Social Work Services Policy Division had considered the teacher recruitment model and the various incentives offered to entice people into the teaching profession, when considering how best to couch their social work recruitment strategies?

“We routinely work closely with colleagues in Early Years, Teachers and various Health Department divisions to make sure our social work and social care recruitment and retention strategies are broadly in line with others’ policy developments. Clearly, we don’t want to trip each other up and we also want to learn as much as we can about what works, and what doesn’t, in our various different-but-related contexts.”{mospagebreak}

Maggie gave us the following examples of cross-departmental working:

– Early Years and Health colleagues sit on our National Workforce Group, which is chaired by the Deputy Minister for Education & Young People

– We consulted closely with Teachers and Allied Health Professionals colleagues as well, of course, as our economists and other professional staff in developing our thinking on the use of incentives, following the recent evaluation of the pilot Social Worker Incentive Scheme

– We are also looking to Teachers Division and Health for shared tactics on how to attract people to careers such as teaching, social work, social care and health care, and

– We collaborate with these groups and others to develop cross-cutting thinking on really big and sprawling topics such as Scotland’s public sector workforce.

“While we have a very strong single strategic vision of where we want the sector to get to – a confident, competent, skilled, versatile and valued workforce that is fit for the purpose in the 21st century – we deploy an array of different and complementary tactics to address different bits of that large challenge. Each measure has its own specific aims and each tactic is devised to provide the best possible fit with that particular bit of the problem – as we understand it from our stakeholders – given the available funds.

“So, sometimes it’s particularly helpful to talk to, say, the Teachers Division. But other times, and for other problems, for example, how to tackle recruitment and retention of social care staff, it is more appropriate to deal with health colleagues. And our approach towards tailoring our colleagues’ best policy responses, and they, ours, is essentially pragmatic.”{mospagebreak}

And so to the future. What does it hold for Fast Track? We didn’t ask Maggie to look too deeply into her crystal ball but were keen to hear what she thought the next twelve months might have in store for Fast Track.

“The next 12 months will continue to focus on the key priority of increasing the number of qualified social workers in Children and Families Services, but the FT Scheme will also enable newly-qualified FT staff to enter the full range of statutory and voluntary social work fields.

“We are introducing a specific measure to support FT trainees from black and minority ethnic communities. This supports the Executive’s aim to develop a more diverse workforce, which matches the needs and aspirations of those using social work services. We will also be addressing the needs of the Voluntary Sector this year – a small number of voluntary sector trainees have recently started their programmes and we look forward to developing this strand over the coming 12 months.

“Phase One of the evaluation of the scheme was completed in February 2004 and Phase Two is currently underway – this will be completed over the summer months. The FT scheme continues to evolve and develop to meet the needs of the workforce in a rapidly changing context. Its continued success depends on a continued responsiveness to the needs of employers in the statutory and voluntary sectors.

“2006  is the final year of the scheme – the final intake of FT students within the Executive’s extended 3-year commitment to the Scheme, following the introductory pilot. The future of the Scheme will be reviewed in the light of a number of factors – principally, the lessons we’re learning from implementing the scheme so far.

“Whatever way we move forward, we will want to continue to strengthen the established collaboration between the Executive, CoSLA and SIESWE to address the need for appropriate career pathways in social work in keeping with the recommendations of the C21 Review, Continuing Professional Development, and the commitment to a learning culture in social work through lifelong learning.”

further information
For all application details and FAQs on the Fast Track scheme visit www.sieswe.org/fasttrack