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Webinar 11: Supporting the Social Service Workforce - Attracting and Retaining Workers in Underserved Areas

Webinar Summary and Recording

Click here to view the full webinar.

On August 8, 2013 the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance hosted its 11th webinar to discuss tools for attracting and supporting the social service workforce in underserved areas.

Maury Mendenhall, Orphans and Vulnerable Children Senior Technical Advisor with USAID, opened the discussion by inviting webinar participants to reflect on what attracted them to their current job post and what continues to motivate them as employees. She emphasized the importance of supporting social service workers and highlighted the benefits of being involved in the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance. Turning to the webinar topic itself, she noted that what attracts and motivates that health and education workforce is not that different from what motivates social service workers. The social service workforce can benefit from tools and resources developed by the health workforce to support workforce retention. She explained that this webinar would be an opportunity for the social service workforce to discuss relevant ways to adapt these tools and resources for the social service workforce.

Dr. Carmen Dolea of the Health Systems Policies and Workforce division of the World Health Organization (WHO) joined the webinar to share recommendations for recruitment and retention of health workers in remote and rural areas. These 16 recommendations were developed by the WHO using a systematic evidence review process that involved experts from around the world.  The recommendations are divided into 4 categories of interventions including: Education, Regulatory, Financial Incentives, and Professional and Personal Support. Dr. Dolea discussed how the recommendations comprise a menu of possible interventions and that the best approach is to choose the combination that best fits the country and job context under consideration. She also gave some examples from countries that are implementing programs focused on recruiting and retaining health workers in remote and rural job posts, particularly staffing strategies inspired by the recommendations including a survey toolkit and methodology used in Laos.

Wanda Jaskiewicz, CapacityPlus Senior Team Leader for Global Leadership and Health Workforce Effectiveness at IntraHealth International, joined the conversation to explain the development and use of the Rapid Retention Survey Toolkit and Discrete Choice Experiment (DCE). Ms. Jaskiewicz explained that there is no single solution to address the lack of rural health care workers; instead, as introduced by Dr. Dolea, bundles of interventions need to be considered. By applying the DCE methodology to the social service workforce, leaders and practitioners could determine which incentives are most likely to attract workers to a post in an underserved area and which combination of incentives promises to retain the greatest percentage of workers. She continued to share what has been learned in the HRH area through application of the Rapid Retention Survey Toolkit and DCE methodology in Laos and explained that while governments may perceive increased compensation packages as the most effective for retaining workers, the results of the toolkit and DCE can reveal relatively low-cost bundles of interventions that include housing and fast-track promotion as more attractive to workers—and are more cost-effective.  

Each of the presentations was followed by a brief question and answer session moderated by Jim McCaffery of CapacityPlus. Questions focused on whether there had been additional research on personal support for health workers (e.g., psychosocial services, professional development and in-service training, rewards for outstanding service) and cost-effectiveness of salary top-ups compared to other incentives such as education stipends for health workers’ children or on-site housing. Participants were interested in how packages of interventions, once determined, are funded, especially for the social service workforce given that responsibility for these workers is often split among multiple ministries.  

In closing, Maury Mendenhall emphasized that understanding the various factors that influence workers’ decisions to work in rural and remote areas—and how these factors might be different for social service workers—is crucial. There are many challenges associated with working in rural and underserved settings and these challenges can contribute to burnout. She noted that burnout is the enemy of retention and referred participants to an earlier webinar on supportive supervision, indicating that offering supportive supervision can also be a strategy attracting and motivating workers. Ms. Mendenhall thanked those in attendance for their participation and directed participants to the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance website for more information on resources related to workforce retention.

Click here for a compilation of resources related to workforce retention.