The past few years have seen the cash-strapped NHS relying more and more on locum and agency staff to cover staff shortages, both short and long-term. Recruitment and retention issues, combined with increased working hours, have all contributed to the widespread use of agency workers and the world of social care has been similarly affected, with costs rocketing and locum social workers an increasingly common sight.
A new clampdown, capping the amount that agency staff can be paid, has recently come into force in England and this is expected to save the NHS £1 billion over the next three years as “going locum” will lose some of its financial appeal. For many people working in social care, However, the chance to work for an agency can offer a number of advantages. For those with busy family commitments or those just starting off in the profession, for example, the chance to work more flexibly and choose from a variety of short-term placements can appeal far more than a full-time permanent contract. Here we explore some of the other pros and cons of agency social work.
The pros: you are in control!
The main advantage of agency job roles in social care is the level of control you will have over your working patterns. You can decide when and where you work and if you want a few weeks off, you can take them. This sort of flexible work, where short-term placements of a week or less are common, is fantastic for those with busy family lives or those nearing the end of their careers and wanting a bit of a change. Many people revel in the excitement of a new challenge each week or month and this is a great way to keep things fresh.
For newly qualified social workers, a few months of agency work is a wonderful way of gaining broad experience in lots of different areas of social care. Maybe you haven’t decided what kind of social work you would like to specialise in? Agency work gives you the chance to “try out” working in different services, in small and large teams, over different areas of the county in which you live. What better way to gain the experience that is so crucial to gaining your first full-time post? Don’t assume, however, that joining an agency is easy; you will still need to be well-prepared at the interview and competition can be fierce. For those that do well and excel in their placements, there are very often opportunities for permanent employment once the placement has ended.
The cons: be prepared for the unexpected!
If financial stability is very important to you, you may not enjoy the unpredictable nature of agency work. Your payments will vary from month to month, depending on how much or how little you have worked and many prefer the reliable income of a permanent salary. The last-minute nature of agency work means you will have to be prepared for the unexpected. Some weeks you might get up expecting to be going to work to find the shift is cancelled as the permanent staff member has returned. Other weeks you might be available and no work comes your way.
Once you get to a placement, you will have to learn the processes and facets of the role quickly and some people may not like always being the “new kid” on the block, never knowing their way around. Temporary staff should always be included in meetings and staff training but oversights often happen so do ensure you ask about this. As an agency worker, you may also miss inductions and continuing professional development training, which is always included in permanent job roles in social care. The key is to be proactive: if you are organised enough, you can ensure that your employer includes you in this type of training, even if you are only there for a short period. For more about the pros and cons of agency work, click here.