The social services workforce is key because it directly impacts the wellbeing and quality of life of individuals and communities in need. The skills, expertise, and dedication of these professionals are essential for providing support, addressing complex issues, and working towards a more just and equitable society.
Throughout 2023, I have discussed with European Commission and national government officials the importance of launching a European Strategy on the Social Services Workforce. While respecting the principle of subsidiarity, there are several arguments in favour of the European Commission launching a more coordinated European approach to the social services workforce considering free movement of workers, the European focus on identifying common challenges and sharing best practice, and the emphasis on social protection and social cohesion.
Social services play a crucial role in supporting vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and those facing various social challenges. As societies evolve and face new challenges, the demand for social services continues to grow. A workforce strategy helps ensure that there are enough skilled professionals to meet this growing demand effectively. Likewise, to effectively address the diverse needs of populations across Europe, the social services workforce should reflect this diversity.
A strategy can include initiatives to recruit and retain professionals from various backgrounds, ensuring the workforce is culturally competent and sensitive to the needs of different communities. One area of development is the potential of Generation Z, but we will need to shake up a few methods first to attract this generation, particularly in the areas of training, professional development, and technology.
Speaking to a Deloitte partner, I found out that a survey they recently ran revealed that over a third of 16–44-year-olds considered an organisation’s purpose before applying for a job (compared to only 21% of 55-64 year-olds). With this shift, social services can appeal more to Generation Z than other sectors. In fact, more than 90% of social services professionals still feel inspired to provide care and support. Why? Because it’s a profession with a clear and understandable purpose: to help people who need it. But we are also aware that this generation, more than any other, is seeking opportunities to learn new skills. This presents a fantastic opportunity for social services, which are undergoing the beginning of a technological revolution that could provide more training opportunities to younger workers, involving the use of technologies like case management software or AI.
Social services professionals require ongoing training and development to stay current with best practice, legal regulations, and emerging trends in the field, particularly around technology. A workforce strategy should outline plans for continuous professional development, ensuring that workers have the necessary skills and knowledge to provide effective support. A well-structured workforce strategy aims to attract, train, and retain highly qualified individuals in the social services sector. This, in turn, helps maintain and improve the quality of care and support provided to those in need.
Finally, an organised and well-managed workforce is more effective in delivering services. A social services workforce strategy should outline methods for optimising resource allocation, caseload management, and service delivery models to ensure that services reach those who need them in a timely and efficient manner. This also includes crises like natural disasters, pandemics, or economic downturns, when the demand for social services may spike. A workforce strategy should include contingency plans for rapidly mobilising and deploying resources to respond to crisis situations effectively.
Enhancing personal approaches and co-creation in social services, accompanied by supportive workforce reforms is crucial for expanding the reach and accessibility of community-based social services. The development of a social services workforce strategy is also at the heart of the next European Social Services Conference (ESSC) which will take place in Antwerp, Belgium between 26-28 June 2024. There are several arguments in favour of the European Commission launching a Social Services Workforce Strategy in light of growing and developing the workforce to meet future demand, enhancing technology skills, and improving professionals’ outreach, development and wellbeing.