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Webinar 17: Roundtable Discussion on Social Work Faculty Recruitment and Retention

Webinar Summary and Recording

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On September 23, 2014 the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, supported by CapacityPlus and Monmouth University, hosted its seventeenth webinar to enhance workforce strengthening by exploring challenges and strategies for the recruitment and retention of academic staff in social service education programs. This discussion adopted a moderated roundtable format where each panelist addressed specific hardships and approaches to faculty recruitment and retention before general questions were taken.

Amy Bess, Coordinator of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance opened the roundtable by introducing Dr. Robin Mama, Dean of the School of Social Work at Monmouth University, as one of the moderators. Dr. Mama began by reflecting on previous webinars that concentrated on workforce strengthening issues related to training curricula, supervision and how the social service workforce is defined. She emphasized that this webinar would take the new focus of discussing matters related to formal social service education programs as they aim to recruit and retain quality faculty at their colleges and universities. Dr. Mama addressed the critical need for retraining and retooling workers’ skills as new protection issues arise and a shortage of social service staff proliferates. Sufficient numbers of educators are required in academia to assist in developing and enhancing the workforce. In this context, she explained that presenters would consider best practices as well as challenges in scholarly recruitment and retention. Dr. Mama then introduced her fellow moderator, Dr. Jim McCaffery, of CapacityPlus. He briefly discussed the relevancy of this topic to the allied health sector and the reforms and tools that they have developed in response. Subsequently, each panelist was personally introduced and their respective institutional background and program demographics were highlighted before providing specific points on recruitment issues and on faculty retention.

Dr. Abu Mvungi, Rector at the Institute of Social Work in Tanzania, began the discussion by underscoring faculty recruitment challenges related to the severe shortage of scholarly staff as caused by a lack of qualified personnel from within the country. This issue is further compounded by a lack of funding to entice faculty from other countries. Meanwhile, there is competition from other academic disciplines and career paths when enlisting teaching staff. In order to address these issues, Dr. Mvungi detailed efforts to conduct headhunting for qualified candidates and to mentor current students through tutorial assistantships. However, the recruiting process goes through government agencies, so petitions have been made to conduct independent recruiting and use a mentorship model. In order to retain faculty, Dr. Mvungi described efforts to invest in their faculty through accelerated training, procurement of research funding, publishing, promotions and improving staff incomes through consultancies. He also mentioned the importance of offering professional development through short training courses, evening classes and foundation courses to candidates who do not have requisite minimum qualification to join the Institute. These various incentive schemes support the growth of faculty profiles and prominence.

Mr. Charles Kalinganire, Lecturer with the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Rwanda, initially highlighted the relative newness of their bachelor’s of social work program and the internal competition it faces from sister disciplines that have been in existence for longer periods of time, such as clinical psychology and sociology. The preeminence of the natural sciences over the social sciences leads to a relative lack of dedicated value and inherent priority being placed on the social work discipline. When the BSW program first began, guest lecturers were relied on to carry teaching posts due to the lack of highly qualified individuals with advanced degrees. Mr. Kalinganire explained ongoing efforts to recruit Rwandan BSW graduates to attend outside universities, particularly in South Africa and Sweden, to obtain their MSW and PhD degrees. These candidates then agree to return to the university to teach. An additional strategy involves partnering with other universities on an international level for mentorship. Furthermore, Mr. Kalinganire highlighted retention challenges related to competition for recent graduates and the inability to compete financially, which are exacerbated by the inherent deficiency in value placed on social work. In addition, a lack of research opportunities and incentives are coupled with an absence of dedicated facilities and equipment. In reaction, Mr. Kalinganire highlighted initiatives to develop partnerships with other universities in the United States and Canada through research projects and conferences as faculty incentives. In addition, conducting research that is published gains international recognition and promotion of faculty members. Moreover, he detailed how this process encourages tenure, generates income, and raises the overall profile of social work as a discipline.

Dr. Kanya Eka Santi, Head of Bandung College of Social Welfare in Indonesia, began by discussing recruitment challenges on a national level due to a shortage of social work educators. This issue is further complicated by internal competition for qualified academic personnel with the national Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA). In addition, there are regulations in place that may move existing qualified staff from one MOSA division to another and from one geographic location to another within the country when needed. In order to address these issues, Dr. Santi discussed efforts to recruit qualified personnel from MOSA and high-achieving students from within the university’s Master’s program. While these strategies face competition, some success was achieved. Meanwhile, gaps in faculty staffing are filled through partnerships with other universities by sharing part-time lecturers. Moreover, Dr. Santi highlighted efforts to collaborate with international NGO’s to provide qualified lecturers, specialized teachers, training and field practice opportunities for students. In relation to retention issues, Dr. Santi focused on the lack of regulations affording staff the opportunity to achieve the status of professor, especially for those who work in schools or universities not under the Ministry of Education. Additionally, there is no procedure in place for scholarly staff to go on sabbaticals for professional development or to elevate in faculty status, which is linked to increased compensation. However, competing institutions such as the Ministry of Social Affairs offer these opportunities. As a strategy to maintain faculty, the retirement age for lecturers and professors has increased in an effort to keep them longer. Additional retention incentives include: performance-based benefits, scholarships for continuing education, opportunities to join national and international conferences, social work certification and licenses, and the chance to work with local government and NGOs to do practice work. Dr. Santi also spoke on the importance of honoring faculty, so they know they are valued.  

Dr. Karen Sowers, Dean and Professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville College of Social Work, noted the commonality across country-specific challenges related to teaching staff shortages. She acknowledged that the dearth of qualified candidates for academic positions in the US is partly due to the relatively constant number of doctoral program graduates over the last fifteen years in comparison to the proliferation of new schools of social work. Thus, more schools are competing for the same number of PhD graduates. Dr. Sowers expressed the additional challenge of faculty requirements related to dual career families and the rising expectation that the university will help the faculty’s partner with locating a job. Since the university is unable to immediately hire recent graduates of their program, they have adopted an early identification strategy for discovering doctoral students from other institutions as potential faculty. The university works to establish a relationship with the candidate as early as possible before prospective employment is offered. Additionally, Dr. Sowers highlighted the spousal partner program as a recruitment tool to help partners of faculty members find employment. Furthermore, Dr. Sowers discussed that while her university does not generally deal with problems retaining faculty, one of the key issues she faced is the competitive nature of fundraising opportunities for faculty who bring in federal support. Dr. Sowers also discussed an effective retention mechanism related to matching or exceeding compensation offers made to current faculty from other universities. Meanwhile, initially strong staff salaries are also supplemented with large merit-based increases based on productivity and opportunities for sabbatical. The university also honors faculty and promotes their accomplishments in order to create inherent value and appreciation.

Dr. Vishanthie Sewpaul, Professor at the University of KwaZulu Natal, President of the Association of Schools of Social Work in Africa, and Vice-President of IASSW, began her recruitment discussion by establishing relevant historical context to the country’s educational setting in the wake of apartheid. The post-apartheid merger of universities brought the unique challenge of skewed staff representation, which was not aligned with legal requirements ensuring depiction of the population demographic. This created an issue of staff representation in addition to stratified educational systems that disproportionately impact the quality of education for African populations. Consequently, the African candidates who are highly qualified are quickly recruited into the government and corporate sectors with better compensation. As a response to these recruitment issues, Dr. Sewpaul highlighted the “grow your own timber” program where high-achieving members of the Master’s program are groomed for faculty positions; currently, five members of the faculty are recent graduates. This addresses cultural and legal imperatives to include representation from the African demographic. Another approach has involved headhunting in a search for individuals with the requisite qualifications for faculty inclusion. In regards to retention challenges, Dr. Sewpaul focused on the increase in bureaucratic obstacles linked to new managerial thrusts, the commodification of education and international competitiveness. She proposed changes to conditions of service that violate labor laws, resulting in issues being taken up with the Centre for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration through the unions. Attempting to balance the conflict between productivity demands and humanizing working expectations poses a challenge. Dr. Sewpaul highlighted retention strategies including opportunities for international collaborations, sabbatical, providing intellectual freedom in research, and ensuring validation at the micro-level through good working conditions and relationships. The compulsory retirement age of sixty was also discussed as a potential detriment, especially for women who may start careers later in life.

The roundtable discussion was followed by questions from attendees pertaining to raising the inherent value of faculty having previous and ongoing social service oriented practice experience and efforts to maintain the balance between academic research and social work practice for faculty. Lastly, a brief summary of key points and parting advice was provided.