Figures reported to a county council scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday (June 8), showed that, as of early May, only 449 of the 511 full-time equivalent (FTE) posts were permanently filled – a shortfall of 62.
A further 46 FTE staff were listed as full-time absent due to a combination of maternity leave, long-term sickness, secondments and career breaks.
With the county council using 78 agency staff to address the shortfall, that left a vacancy gap of 30 FTE staff.
The gap represents six per cent of the workforce – up from five per cent 12 months ago. A report to the committee said permanent and agency were ‘a scarce commodity nationwide’ making recruitment and retention of staff ‘a challenge’.
The council is working to fill the vacancy gap.
The first group of seven social work apprentices will complete their three year training this summer, becoming newly-qualified social workers (NQSW) from September. And 60 applicants have been shortlisted for interview for the September intake to the NQSW social work academy scheme. Lucy Butler, director of children, young people & learning, told the meeting: “I don’t think we’ve ever experienced a time where recruitment has been so tough. That’s not just a West Sussex thing, that’s a national thing"
“We are doing everything that we can think of – and we do put a lot of effort into this – but it’s a very tough terrain out there at the moment.”
The council has also been looking abroad for experienced social workers, bringing in staff from as far afield as Zimbabwe and Canada.
Ms Butler said it was getting harder and harder to recruit individual social workers. She added: “What we get offered is teams of social workers, with a team manager, which is more costly and brings its own issues and omplications. That’s beginning to be a thing in the workforce. We are desperately trying – we’re trying to be innovative and we’re trying to think of new things. It would be wrong of me to say that this is an easy thing. It’s a real challenge.”