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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

A problem shared...

Do you remember when one of Bill Clinton’s campaign slogans was ‘it’s the economy, stupid’? Or when Tony Blair’s top priority was ‘education, education, education’. Sometimes an issue seems to capture the essence of an era, wrapping up many elements into a single, pertinent theme. As Chair of the ADCS Workforce Development Policy Committee, I sometimes fear I’ll nod off to sleep murmuring ‘workforce, workforce, workforce’ and wake up still murmuring ‘it’s the workforce, stupid’.

I’m aware of the old aphorism ‘to a hammer, everything looks like a nail’; we shape our frame of reference around our own interests and as a result we tend to see what we go looking for. Of course, I see workforce challenges everywhere! That’s my remit and my focus as a policy committee chair. However, it’s been illuminating to me this week to be in several discussions with colleagues and partner organisations for whom workforce is also the dominant problem.

Are DCSs in many local authorities having difficulties recruiting and retaining child and family social workers? Yes, we are. Those of us with in-house residential care provision might well add residential care workers to the list of shortage occupations. In our directorates, albeit in another division, do you have enough education psychologists to always be able to meet expected timescales on your education health and care needs assessments? I thought not.

Our work to support children with additional needs and disabilities reveals shortages of staff in NHS organisations, to take occupational therapists and speech and language therapists as just two examples. As you plan for the upcoming SEND Area Inspection, do you have enough Designated Medical Officer and Designated Clinical Officer capacity? Look closely at our ‘Starting Well’ / ‘Best Start’ work and many of us will uncover gaps in midwifery and health visiting as well as among early years practitioners. In collaborative work with two separate health partners in the past few days, we have centred our attention on ways we can work together to tackle key strategic workforce shortages (not limited to children’s services, I have to say).

One crucial strategic objective is to see and understand the children’s workforce in its broad sense as a shared concern, and to look for ways to work together to recruit, improve professional development, and strengthen positive organisational cultures in our localities. Have we got vacancies in similar positions at the same time? Can we advertise together for both, demonstrating our collaboration and shared values and then take a combined panel approach to interviewing and appointing, which will save us time and achieve partner buy-in to key roles? In our local authority areas, what’s the shared USP that makes it a great place to work? It’ll be a selling point to people looking for jobs in our police forces, hospitals, and schools too. In some places it’ll be the busy, well-connected, urban centres that make living there interesting and commuting there straightforward. In other places, we’ll be able to fulfil the dreams of those who have always wanted to end their working day by the sea, or up in the hills enjoying the fresh air and view. Our organisations are increasingly incorporating ‘integrated’ teams with staff from more than one organisation working side by side, often on different terms and conditions. Can we blur the organisational boundaries in ways that will be helpful? On incentives: are there memberships and discounts we make available to our own staff that we could also offer to children’s workforce colleagues in partner organisations? Can we appoint more frequently to joint roles? Can we design new roles as joint roles from the get go?

I’ve asked many more questions than I’ve answered in this blog, but the hope is to stimulate and encourage the sharing of ideas that will help us tackle our workforce challenges together with our key partners. I expect it will take a long time for our problem shared to become a problem halved, but it’s worth a try.

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