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In line with current developments at EU level on intra-EU mobility of professionals and the European Commission’s agenda on jobs, ESN has been reviewing key issues around recruitment, retention, planning and managing the social service workforce in Europe. Our work has focussed on social workers and social care professionals working in all areas of social services: child protection, services for people with disabilities and mental health issues, social inclusion, and services for older people.

Throughout 2016, ESN conducted a study on the topic with Dr Shereen Hussein, Principal Research Fellow at King’s College London’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit. Together we explored the current workforce challenges, good examples of addressing them using innovative approaches to training and planning, and key facilitators for sustainable workforce management.

Our 2016 seminar ‘Investing in the social service workforce: Building a caring society’ brought together around 100 delegated from ESN member organisations and external participants from across Europe and beyond. We discussed the opportunities and challenges of workforce mobility in the EU, and explored sustainable recruitment and retention strategies at the local and organisational level. Participants also learned about innovative approaches to workforce planning and management, including technological tools that can support new ways of working. The event was an opportunity for ESN and Shereen Hussein to present some initial research findings and for participants to contribute to it. This has fed into ESN’s report on the social service workforce, which is based on a literature review, a comprehensive questionnaire that we launched in summer 2016, and a policy analysis of selected European countries. It features a set of recommendations for policy-makers, practitioners and researchers.


At European level, the Social Investment Package (SIP) stresses the role of high quality, integrated and personalised services in developing people's skills and capabilities, improving their opportunities and helping them to make the most of their potential throughout the life course. The Communication from the European Commission: Towards Social Investment for Growth and Cohesion – including implementing the European Social Fund 2014-2020 mentions in particular shortages in the long-term care workforce that should be addressed by “boosting employment in ‘white coat jobs’ and improving working conditions in this area.”

This ties in with the New Skills Agenda for Europe, which calls for modernisation of labour markets, education and training to address both skills shortages and recruitment problems. It also outlines EU work strands to make skills and qualifications more comparable. Mobility of workers is of increasing importance in the social services field, for instance in child protection and in the long-term care sector, which requires easy to compare skills and qualifications, as the Commission proposes.

ESN resources

EU resources

Seminar presentations

Comparing the social service workforce across Europe – current trends

Bridging the digital divide, training and recruiting the future social service workforce

Practical approaches to workforce planning

Training and manging the workforce – current and future developments