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National Strategy for the Development of the Social Service Workforce in Scotland 2005 -2010:

A Plan for Action

UNISON Scotland's response to Scottish Executive Consultation on the National Strategy for the Development of the Social Service Workforce in Scotland 2005 - 2010: A Plan for Action

March 2005

Executive Summary

  • UNISON Scotland is pleased to support in principle, the proposals outlined in the consultation document: National Strategy for the Development of the Social Service Workforce in Scotland 2005-2010: A Plan for Action.

  • We are pleased at the recognition of the need for a Learning Culture to be introduced throughout the service and believe this should be extended across the entire workforce.

  • We believe there is a need for greater emphasis on training amongst the support workers, including administrative staff and family support workers.

  • We believe that service users must be taken into account at all stages in the document and should be recognised as Key Stakeholders.

  • We believe that the trade unions should also be recognised as Key Stakeholders and that the need to consult and negotiate with them at all stages of the programme should be built into the document.

  • UNISON Scotland believes that workload management issues have to be addressed as a matter of urgency, as this issue could mitigate against the quality of the training undertaken by staff.

  • There is a need for a comprehensive programme and the injection of appropriate resources to enable staff to be released for training and development, including backfilling of posts.

  • UNISON Scotland believes there is a need for new HR policies to be introduced including Health & Safety, Flexible Working and Equalities Policies.

  • We support the proposals to seek diversity amongst the workforce, but would widen these to include previous service users and other groups, such as men.

  • We support the establishment of a Sector Skills Council for the Social Services sector, but believe trade unions should be afforded the opportunity to participate.

  • Whilst a well established scheme of learning and development of the workforce will assist with Recruitment and Retention Issues, we still believe that job structure, pay and grading of social workers and other workers in that sector need to be reviewed in an attempt to address these problems.

  • We believe that it is essential for adequate funding to be provided to all employers to enable workforce development to take place.

  • We believe that the current programme being carried out by the UNISON/WEA partnership should be extended. The value of the experiences learned during the delivery of the Return to Learn programme, through the 12-Point Action Plan for Social Services should be built on.

  • UNISON Scotland believes that the Executive should continue to use the Union Learning Representatives and Lifelong Learning Advisers to promote participation in learning by identifying learning needs in the workforce.

  • We believe the strategy must recognise the diversity of employers across both the statutory and voluntary field.


UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 150,000 members working in the public sector. UNISON Scotland represents workers from social services throughout Scotland, with members employed as social workers, home care workers, residential care workers, welfare rights workers, early years staff and others administrating and supporting the social work team.

Most of our social services workers are employed by Local Authorities, which we believe is the most appropriate vehicle for delivery of social care services. We also represent a substantial number of staff who work in the private and voluntary sector.

UNISON Scotland in partnership with the Workers Educational Association (UNISON/WEA) is currently involved in delivering education and training services to the social service workforce in Scotland and this submission will also comment on this work and ways that it could be improved. The response to this document has been framed from experience working across these sectors and engaging with workers, managers, training and development managers and policy makers at local regional and national levels.

The UNISON/WEA partnership has been organising and delivering learning opportunities to workers in health and social care for over 15 years. Over the last five years we been working in partnership with the Scottish Executive Health Department and the Social Work Services Inspectorate, delivering Return to Learn to workers in these sectors through the Learning Together Strategy for Health and the Twelve Point Action Plan for Social Services.

In the last two years UNISON/WEA has organised and delivered 82 Return to Learn courses, involving nearly 1000 frontline social care staff. Social care employers including 28 of Scotland's Local Authorities and many national, and locally based, voluntary sector organisations have been involved in this programme.

UNISON/WEA recognises the importance of enabling staff to overcome the barriers to learning which exist for many frontline social care staff. Without adequate and effective means to do this will limit not only the opportunity for staff to develop to their full potential, but will limit the ability of the sector to benefit from the full range of skills and experience located in large numbers of frontline staff.

UNISON supports the principles within the strategy which identify the need for learning to be more than that related to registration, and welcomes the introduction of the Continuing Professional Development component for all staff working in social care.

UNISON recognises the important role of the union learning representatives and lifelong learning advisers in promoting participation in learning and in identifying learning needs in the workforce. We are well placed to support implementation of learning initiatives through our well-established network of learners representatives and lifelong learning advisers.

UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to comment on the National Strategy for the Development of the Social Service Workforce in Scotland 2005 - 2010: A Plan for Action.



UNISON Scotland welcomes the intention of the Scottish Executive's National Workforce Group to take action to develop the social service workforce with the aim of encouraging:

"a competent, confident and valued workforce, delivering high quality, person centred services, responsive to the diverse and changing environment of Scotland in the 21st Century".

We believe this can be best achieved by including the recognised trade unions as key components in representing the interests of the social services workforce.

Need to develop a learning culture

UNISON Scotland has long campaigned for training and professional development on behalf of this workforce, and are delighted that the previous inadequate provision is now to be addressed. We believe that at present there is no learning culture across most of the workforce and we hope that the radical thinking behind this strategy will fulfil the objectives that it has set itself. However, in developing a learning culture within the social services workforce, mechanisms need to be established to engage the entire workforce in learning. The partnership with trade unions and learning providers has been demonstrated to be effective in achieving this, e.g. UNISON/WEA's Return to Learn programme.

Need to widen access to training for whole workforce

We believe there is a need for training for all staff across the workforce, from the managers of the various services and the elected members, to the clerical, administrative and other support workers. We would particularly emphasise the role of the admin support and family support workers who perform a valuable service in supporting the role of the social worker. We would wish greater emphasis in the document on training and development needs of these staff.

Community and Voluntary Sector

UNISON Scotland has concerns that the document fails to take account of the challenges currently facing the voluntary sector already struggling to cope with:

  • Introduction of SVQ's for Staff
  • Increased regulation by the Social Services Council
  • Care Commission
  • Funding cuts
  • Low pay and high staff turnover

The employers in this sector are of a small to medium size and they have reservations that their need to develop and support staff will not be supported with additional funding and resources.


Key Stakeholders

We welcome the acknowledgement that the prime outcome of the strategy is to improve the lives of those who use the services provided by our members and support the aims contained in the outcomes identified for the sector.

We are therefore, concerned that the document does not include service users as key stakeholders as we believe that all training and development plans need to be tailored to improvements for them.

Equally we believe that the relevant trade unions should be recognised as key stakeholders both in their role as attaining the best conditions for their members, which incorporates the need for training and development and in their role as assisting in the provision of such training and development.

Importance of Access to Learning and Workplace Supports

With regard to the Main Challenges facing the Sector, UNISON/WEA believes that access to learning and learning supports needs to be embedded into the processes of recruitment and staff development to encourage and facilitate entry into, and career development within, the social care sector.

In addition, a range of Learning Supports needs to be available to allow workers to confidently and competently undertake the learning associated with registration. This range will run from:

SQA Access supporting SVQ II,

SQA Intermediate supporting SVQ III/HNC, and

SQA Higher supporting SVQ III and IV/HNC/HND and entry to degree level.

UNISON/WEA's experience from working across the sector is that additional, extensive, skills gaps exist for frontline social care staff not yet confident or competent enough to undertake registration based and career development focussed qualifications.

Workload Management and the Trade Unions

We also wish to include an additional point of Workload Management in this section, as we believe that such a system would be welcomed by our members, and once properly implemented, could alleviate some of the stress experienced due to heavy workloads.

We again emphasise that the trade unions have a key role to play in enabling the workforce to engage with new policy developments, in assisting in delivering high quality services and brokering effective partnership working within the social care and health sectors.


UNISON Scotland welcomes the acknowledgement of the complexity of the environment in which social service workers operate which are ever changing due to continual legislative and policy developments.

We have supported recent policy developments including the aim of trebling the number of residential childcare staff meeting SSSC requirements by 2009; increasing the number of early years, childcare and support staff by 2009 and increasing the number of qualified social workers in the same time.

We have also supported the introduction of SSSC Codes of Practice for Social Service Workers and Employers, which create an initial framework for training and continuing professional development for social service workers.

Need for Strong Inspection Bodies

UNISON Scotland welcomed the establishment of the Care Commission and has expressed its support at the recent proposals to change the structure of the Social Work Services Inspectorate. We believe that there is a need for strong inspection bodies, each with a clearly defined role, including their relationship with each other.


Improved HR Policies

With regard to the National Initiatives we welcome the establishment of the Human Resources Group which is developing a toolkit for people management and development. (2.18) However, we believe this section should be expanded to include the development of policies to improve the conditions of the staff, by introducing family friendly policies, such as carer's leave and flexible working policies which would assist work-life balance. At present most staff need protection from excessive workloads. The high workloads cause great stress to our members. We are also aware that these circumstances can create a culture of bullying and that dignity at work policies should be introduced to address this. In addition we do not believe that enough regard is paid to health and safety for the workforce and would wish to see managers trained and encouraged to implement such policies.

UNISON Scotland welcomes the recognition that flexible working arrangements need to become more developed and particularly in regard to the pensions issue would support choice for the workforce to be able to decide whether they want to work beyond the age of 60 or to be able to retire earlier. We believe that more flexible working arrangements should be introduced to create a more advantageous work-life balance than is available at present.

Need to Improve Diversity

We support the focus on examining ways to encourage people from the black and minority ethnic communities into social work which will reflect our diverse communities. However, we feel that there are other groups that could equally be targeted, such as service users and carers, who may have valuable experience to contribute in the social service workforce. Other groups should also be considered, such as men, which would address gender issues in the workforce.

UNISON Scotland welcomes the establishment of the 21st Century Review of Social Work and is making a contribution through its involvement with the group. We are also directly involved in the National Review of Early Years and Childcare Workforce and will be making separate responses during the lifetime of this group.

With regard to technological advances, we are concerned that restrictions on access to IT skills will be most acutely felt by frontline social care staff, many of whom will need most support in using new technologies. Appropriate supports must be made available.

In paragraph 2.29 we would encourage both the Scottish Executive and Local Authorities to look at greater use of European funding, such as that utilised in the Spotlight in Practice initiative, the Glasgow Employment Multiplier outlined in the document.


Importance of Return to Learn

The Twelve Point Action Plan introduced by the Minister for Education and Young People in 2002, identified the provision of Return to Learn as a key area of workforce development which supported the successful participation in SVQs by frontline social care staff. The programme was supported by SWSI and provided essential, effective, and appropriate learning support to frontline social care staff from all areas of the sector across Scotland. UNISON/WEA is currently negotiating for continuation and development of this programme.

UNISON Scotland shares the Executive's concerns at the skills gaps and shortages across the workforce. We believe that for many staff, the most significant reasons lie in their ability to engage with learning and in identifying the relevance of learning with their personal and work development. Failure to provide mechanisms to overcome these barriers to participation in learning and development will dilute the effectiveness of CPD for all, and reduce the ability of the sector to effectively develop career and development paths for existing and new staff.

UNISON/WEA through the Return to Learn Programme included in the 12 Point Action Plan, has delivered 82 courses equalling nearly 1000 learners, and developed partnerships across the social care sector with health. UNISON/WEA has also worked with the Scottish Institute for Residential Childcare to offer a complementary range of supports for staff working towards registration qualifications.

Training across Whole Workforce.

However, whilst we fully understand that the first phase of training has had to be slanted towards registration in the childcare sector, the impact has been to take training away from other sectors. If in stage 2 the training is targeted towards another, distinct group of staff, e.g. staff working in care of the elderly, then again, the rest of the staff will again miss out. There is a need for training across the whole sector and we seek assurances that all staff will be treated equitably.

Fast Track Graduate Recruitment Scheme

We continue to have reservations at the operation of the Fast Track Graduate Recruitment Scheme, which brings graduates without any experience of social work into the profession. We believe that more should be done to encourage staff currently employed as part of the social services workforce into social work training as they have already demonstrated a clear commitment to the ethos of the service.



UNISON Scotland supports the vision of "a competent, confident and valued workforce delivering high quality, person-centred services". We particularly welcome the emphasis on the Learning Culture having a prime role in the organisation. We agree that the culture of staff development should be encompassed by the whole organisation, including the elected members and management at all levels - it should not just be the responsibility of specialist training personnel. We also believe that the trade unions should be involved at all stages of development. We acknowledge that training and development has to be a responsibility of politicians, management, Human Resource services and that the individual also has a role to play.

We believe that access to a range of learning supports at a range of levels will be essential if learning and development are to become recognised as a priority by frontline staff. Learning supports and routes into learning are essential to enable staff to confidently and competently participate in the formal and informal learning associated with the delivery of social care services.

We agree that investment in staff development and improving the skills of the workforce should be seen as "an essential dimension of improving the quality of services delivered to service users" and support the action points for this section. (Paragraph 3.4)

We are concerned, however, particularly in the Voluntary Sector, that staff who fail to attain the minimum standards required, could be excluded from the already stretched labour market, despite having served that sector faithfully and appropriately for many years.

Management of Change - Involvement of Trade Unions

We need clarification on Paragraphs 3.5, 7 & 8. UNISON appreciates that there is often a need for change in the way services are delivered and planned, nevertheless, we would expect that any changes to working practices would be managed in a proper way, following full negotiations with the trade unions. Change must be managed in an atmosphere of trust with adequate support for staff. In Paragraph 3.5 we feel it is quite obvious that staff cannot develop themselves, without the employer making opportunities available to them and providing the support to that development, by, for example, freeing up time and providing back up for work to be covered.

Overcoming Barriers to Learning

We believe there needs to be a working environment which recognises and acknowledges the range of styles and rates in which adults learn and the resulting range of supports into and through the learning process that should be available in the workplace for effective learning to take place. (3.6)

We believe that the type of organisation referred to in paragraph 3.10 should work to provide staff with opportunities to overcome barriers to learning and work in partnership with those with a track record of

doing so.


However, we require an additional point be added to the list: "be responsive to and knowledgeable about health & safety legislation, including stress and bullying issues; family friendly policies and ensure that care and respect is afforded to their staff".

Performance Assessment

We support the recognition of staff supervision (para 3.17) being a key component to the provision of support to and care of the workforce. We also acknowledge the need for performance assessment as part of staff supervision. However, we would not support in any way the introduction of performance being related to pay

When taking steps to put in place effective Performance Review and Appraisal Systems (Action following para 3.38) we expect assurances that this will be done following consultation with the Trade Unions.


Need for Reduction of Excessive Workloads

We accept that individuals have a responsibility to ensure that they are properly trained and developed, but we strongly believe that this is not possible unless the proper framework and encouragement is put into place by the organisation. We do not accept that staff should have to invest their own time and finance in their own learning, when clearly this learning could only be to the benefit of the service provided by that individual. We have already commented on excessive workloads being commonplace throughout social services and think it unreasonable that staff are expected to cope with the workload and fit in studying in their own time. We have also commented on the need for a better work-life balance to be aimed for and this would work against that stated aim.

In Para 3.24 we believe that the 12 Point Action Plan with the provision of Return to Learn is a route to supporting staff overcome barriers to learning and we believe this involvement should continue. We also believe (para 3.27) that programmes, such as the UNISON/WEA Skills Escalator provide a parallel spectrum of learning activity which would offer a series of access points and supports to enable staff to step on and off the continuum of workplace and lifelong learning experience, including the proposals for Continual Professional Development which we fully support.

Induction Courses and Trade Union Participation

In the Spectrum of Learning and Development we support the need for Induction to introduce staff to the workplace and highlight their role in it. However, we believe that trade unions should be specifically included as a key stakeholder in the induction process.

UNISON Learner Representatives and Lifelong Learning Advisers

UNISON's Learner Representatives and Lifelong Learning Advisers are role models for learning based on their own experience, and have statutory support for their activities in promoting access to learning for others by highlighting relevance and opportunities for development to their colleagues throughout the workforce.

In addition, UNISON/WEA enables access to Careers Scotland advisors for independent guidance on professional and personal learning activities and this is also complemented by UNISON and employer guidance on learning opportunities which produces maximum student personal choice and responsibility for learning and development participation. We believe that the role played by UNISON/WEA and UNISON's Life-long Learning advisers should be recognised in the section on Recognising Achievement.

For effective methods of delivery (para 3.32) there is a need to learn from current experience of Return 2 Learn, which is that the learner must be placed at the centre of activity. This means that there needs to be access to learning in the workplace at a time which enables participation but which does not result in reduction in service delivery standards.



Trade Union Participation in the Sector Skills Council

UNISON Scotland notes the intention to establish Sector Skills Council for the Social Service sector. We note that such councils "actively involve trade unions" as well as other stakeholders. We are concerned that so far there has been no consultation with UNISON on the establishment of the Social Service Sector Skills Council. Along with our counterparts at a UK level we at least expect the Trade Unions to be afforded a seat on the council so that they can participate in its organisation.

We welcome the intention to build on and extend requirements for registration and Post-Registration Training and Learning and the proposals for Continuous Professional Development for Social Workers and the intention to extend these to other staff. (para 4.4)

In Para 4.20 we believe there should be a role for adult education providers from the statutory voluntary sectors to support FE and HE activities.

Access to, and use of IT, in learning (para 4.21) needs to be appropriately supported for those sections of workforce with no experience or access to IT facilities. We would emphasise that models of flexible delivery exist through the UNISON/WEA learning provision.

Diversity and equality ((4.24) can be well articulated through partnership with Trade Unions who in many cases are best placed to raise and address issues arising from a diversifying workforce.

Recruitment and Retention Issues

Retention of staff and growing of the workforce (4.25) is often linked to job satisfaction, and other ‘soft' issues such as access to and support for learning. Nevertheless UNISON Scotland still believes that Social Workers have fallen behind other public sector workers such as teachers, doctors and nurses, in pay, status and career progression, particularly post-McCrone and following pay review body awards for other public sector workers. We are clear that job structure, pay and grading of social workers, and other staff in the sector needs to be seriously reviewed in the light of all of these demands and pressures, which will go a long way towards addressing the recruitment and retention problems.

In the Voluntary Sector resources also need to be committed to secure adequate career paths and a wages structure that recognises the essential role of its staff.


Staff Release

UNISON Scotland believes that Staff Release Issues (4.28/9) are crucial to effective workforce development throughout the sector. If resources and systems are not put in place to provide cover to release staff to undertake training, then the training will not be able to take place. Staff need to know that they will not have to return to a huge workload, to enable them to benefit from their training and staff development. Service delivery relies on effective staff support, including staff release for learning and development. The benefits of staff participation in learning need to be viewed in mid to long term and not short term time periods. There are also issues around equality of access which arise when this not effectively addressed. Support for managers' understanding of these issues is essential.

The Community and Voluntary sector have additional problems, due to the high staff turnover within the sector which makes it more difficult to deliver a service, and provides no cover for staff to be allowed time for training and development.

Ability to Engage with Learning

The ability of the individual to engage with learning (4.30) often depends on previous experience and routes must be found to support those who have been away from education for some time, those who have had a poor experience of school or college and those who do not see or understand the relationship of personal development learning and work. The experience of UNISON and the WEA has shown that these issues exist across a range of workforce groups and at a number of learning levels. Other perceived barriers to learning such as age, gender and employers support can be overcome by effective partnership working with Trade Unions, and explicit employer support for activities of the Learner Representative and Lifelong Learning Adviser.


UNISON Scotland welcomes the acknowledgement that adequate funding is essential for the aim of workforce development to become a reality and we note the arrangements currently in force. However we are concerned that cash-strapped local authorities and voluntary sector organisations will not be able to adequately fund their portion of funding which may have to compete with other, more pressing demands. If the proposals discussed in the document are to be realised, there must be guarantees from the Scottish Executive that there will be adequate funding made available to both provide the funding and provide the framework to ensure that staff development is able to take place.

For further information please contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk


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