By Dr. James McCaffery, PhD, Senior Advisor, Training Resources Group and CapacityPlus
To paraphrase Albert Einstein, who once said ‘out of clutter, find simplicity,’ I would adapt it to say ‘out of diversity, find strength.’ And the social service workforce is wonderfully diverse.
Consider the broad range of job titles that exist – social worker, social work assistant, community based care giver, social welfare extension worker, community based psychosocial worker, child and youth care worker, and so on. In addition, there are other roles from related sectors that deliver some aspect of social service work within their areas or responsibility, including people like teachers, probation officers and community health workers. To add to this complex social service workforce picture, there is a broad range of government and non-government organizations that hire and support workers, and these exist in some form at both the national and local level, and include formal as well as non-formal (and traditional) community groups and mechanisms.
I use the term ‘wonderfully diverse’ in the first sentence just to acknowledge that there is definitely space for many to contribute in this area, and there is a certain strength in this organizational and workforce diversity that should be celebrated.
Given this picture, however, there is a key challenge – what kinds of actions can this broad range of organizations take to make sure they are supporting the various components of the workforce that they are responsible for? What options do they have to motivate a plethora of widely different kinds of workers?
Drawing from the Support component of the Social Service Workforce Strengthening Framework, there are two important areas that leaders at every level – and in any type of organization -- can use to choose appropriate interventions or strategies that fit their context and needs.
1) Develop or strengthen systems to improve and sustain social service workforce performance. Probably most important, organizations can improve the kind of supportive supervision that they use with front line workers, and to seek out any special mechanisms that may be needed for community based caregivers. Another key area that would support workforce performance is to develop or agree on standard operating procedures for more coordinated and comprehensive services between national, district and community based organizations providing support for children and families (e.g. better tracking and documentation of services, making certain the referral system is actually working, and identifying how well the different players are working together to provide ongoing support for children and families).
2) Develop or adapt tools, resources, and initiatives to improve job satisfaction and retention. It is important to start in this area by soliciting and implementing ideas from social service workers for improving workplace conditions aimed at enabling them to carry out their responsibilities more effectively. Just the act of asking for input will be motivating to workers (assuming of course that something is done as a result). It is also important to consult with social service workers and community based care givers to identify ways to acknowledge achievements or incentives and (merit-based) promotions to provide for individuals who stay with organizations for longer periods of time. Finally, it is useful to engage in on-going monitoring to measure progress in the areas of job satisfaction and retention interventions and to make appropriate changes based on evidence.
I should also add that there is an Alliance Interest Group working now on exploring and consolidating perspectives and key considerations concerning the role of para professionals in the social service workforce. As part of their work, they are developing a series of guiding principles for developing and supporting the workforce, which will also be a valuable resource once it is complete.
As we consider these kinds of leadership actions to support the social service workforce, we are also fortunate to have profiles of leaders who are doing just that.
- Dumizile Theodora Malatjie, OVC Coordinator, South Africa
- Lungi Mkhize, Child and Youth Care Worker and Supervisor, South Africa
- Hilaire Kalume Director, DISPE—Directorate of Social Interventions for the Protection of Children— Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
- Sbongile Mzulwini, Child and Youth Care Worker, South Africa
I encourage you to read these profiles as they are excellent examples of a very important social service cadre, that is, leaders and managers who are responsible for creating an enabling workforce environment. Also take a look at a story about the way that community volunteers are supported through intensive training provided by the USAID-supported Yekokeb Berhan Program for Highly Vulnerable Children in Ethiopia.
For those leaders interested in taking action to support their workforce, the Alliance website has many useful resources on supporting the workforce that can be adapted and applied to fit different contexts. For example, there are different tools or training courses that can be used to develop or train supervisors. There are studies about how best to compensate primary and secondary community based caregivers. There are country profiles that described workforce strengthening progress in Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi and Namibia. There are resources aimed at improving staff retention, one that describes how important the supervisor’s role is in retention and identifies supervisory competencies that increase retention and another – borrowed from the health sector – which provides tools to solicit input from workers about packages of incentives to best facilitate retention.
The Alliance has also hosted a number of webinars related to supporting the workforce, including:
- Creating Supportive Environments for the Social Service Workforce
- Professionalizing the Social Service Workforce - the Role of Licensing
- Supporting the Social Service Workforce: Attracting and Retaining Workers in Underserved Areas
I encourage you to go on the website and look around, and I think you will find it a rich resource. And our hope is that you will share your documents or insights about your own initiatives in this area so that others might profit as result of your work. You can send documents to firstname.lastname@example.org with a short description and we will help you to disseminate them.
And to return for a moment to our Einstein quote – we may not easily be able to find simplicity, but we can make every effort at the workforce level to make the diversity a strength by supporting all kinds of workers better.