Case study: Recruiting and retaining social workers at Bracknell Forest Council


Case study: Recruiting and retaining social workers at Bracknell Forest Council

Bracknell Forest Council employs 4,000 people in a diverse range of jobs to provide a variety of services to the local area. Recruiting for those jobs can be a challenge. Janet Berry, Recruitment Strategy Manager for the council, reports that for some categories of vacancies they are inundated with applicants but in other areas, social workers being a prime example, there are serious skill shortages.

Bracknell Forest has taken a holistic approach to overcome the skill shortages in this area, focusing not only on recruiting but also on developing and retaining the social workers they employ through a range of complementary initiatives.

The council ‘grows its own’ social workers through sponsoring students through university. It has developed strong links with universities and provides bursary schemes to undergraduates in their final year. These provide not only financial support but also work placements so students develop strong links with the council. In exchange, once qualified, beneficiaries are expected to apply for social worker posts with the council and accept a post for a minimum of two years if it is offered. Bracknell Forest also operates a separate social work practice placement scheme for students. This offers support for learning, weekly supervision, a comprehensive induction, training opportunities, the opportunity to spend time with different teams to broaden experience and group mentoring.

The student schemes have been very successful. Many of the council’s students go on to become permanent members of staff and this has had a significant positive impact on moving towards the council’s objective of ensuring the social worker teams are fully staffed.

Bracknell Forest also places great emphasis on creating a working environment that is conducive to retaining employees.

‘We offer an attractive benefits package that includes flexible and remote working, buying and selling annual leave, childcare vouchers and so on but we find, with social workers, retention is more to do with their immediate work environment, their day-to-day work, so we try to focus on their experience at work. We’ve worked really hard to make sure sections are adequately resourced with permanent, rather than agency staff, so people are working in stable groups. We really focus on providing a supportive environment. It’s about respecting, providing a caring environment, listening, taking action on issues that affect their well-being and being seen to take action. This has been helped by a strong management team that provides stability.’

Effective management is obviously key to retaining employees and Bracknell Forest invests in management development across the council as a whole. A supportive culture is also seen to be essential for retaining social workers. Bracknell Forest cultivates this through very strong and regular communication between workers and supervisors and a genuine open-door policy where senior managers sit next to their teams. Practitioner support groups, reflective learning, and supportive mentors provide additional support. The council further demonstrates the value it places on its employees through its commitment to learning and development. As well as formal training, social workers can have mixed caseloads to develop their skills and opportunities for creative decision-making because the focus is on outcomes.

Bracknell Forest’s investment in recruiting and retaining social workers has paid off.

‘Our social workers choose to stay for a long time. They provide good quality social work and receive ongoing training. Only rarely do we use agency workers – we’d rather spend the money on our staff.’

Information provided by Janet Berry, Recruitment Strategy Manager

(Source CIPD 2010 Resourcing and Talent Management Survey)


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