With EU Member States seeking new ways to address the challenges within social services recruitment and training, Alfonso Lara Montero took the opportunity to outline the European Social Network’s (ESN) work on the subject at a recent conference in Latvia’s capital, Riga. At the event, "Development of Professional Social Work in Municipalities", which was held on 23 March 2018 and organised by the Latvian Ministry of Welfare as part of a European Social Fund project, Alfonso Lara Montero presented findings and recommendations from ESN’s latest report on the subject.

Presenting the report, “Investing in the social services workforce”, he told delegates: ‘’As countries across Europe look at how to innovate in social services workforce reform, policy developments must go hand in hand with staff training and development to address the recruitment crisis in the sector’’. Addressing the conference, which takes place annually focusing on a single aspect of social work policy and practice to raise awareness and promote discussion on aspects of the job that tend to be overlooked, Mr Montero outlined the results of ESN’s research relating to how to train the social services workforce of the future.

“Investing in the social services workforce” – a timely report by ESN

The conference speech came on the back of work undertaken throughout 2016 by ESN on the social services workforce. ESN conducted research on the challenges, developments and opportunities faced by the social services workforce. This was done through a questionnaire, a literature and policy review, and a seminar organised in cooperation with the Slovakian Presidency of the EU Council. The findings from the research, which ESN conducted together with Dr Shereen Hussein from King’s College London’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit, are in our report “Investing in the social services workforce” which was published in 2016.

The report was broken into five main sections: qualifications and skills, recruitment and retention, labour mobility across EU countries, workforce planning and management and key recommendations. The first section provides an overview of the qualifications and regulatory frameworks for social work and social care professions in select EU countries. Recruitment and retention looks at the challenges faced by social services trying to encourage professionals to join the workforce and pursue careers within it. The section on labour mobility explores issues associated with the social services workforce moving across the EU, including qualification recognition issues and staff exploitation. Meanwhile workforce planning and management explores issues around ensuring robust structures and processes in the face of reduced funding, high numbers of vacancies, and new user demands.

Key presentation messages

Key messages presented to the Riga conference encompassed recommendations to policy-makers, practitioners, managers and academics. These included that policy makers work to establish a mutual recognition of qualifications across the EU. ESN believes this will improve labour mobility and allow qualified social workers to access social worker roles in other countries instead of having to take jobs they are overqualified for. Another recommendation was that service users be involved in training and recruitment of social services professionals both in work and at university. A final conclusion was that social services need to explore technological advances to improve the quality of work and create standards to manage any changes in practice for social workers.