Social workers are in high demand

This World Social Work Day we are announcing the findings from our inaugural Social Workers Demand Survey. Through the survey we aimed to explore the extent of the shortage of social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand and to provide insights to government agencies and decision makers, as well as the broader sector. 

The theme of World Social Work Day is Co-building a New Eco-social world: leaving no one behind. It presents a vision and action plan to create new global values, policies and practices that develop trust, security and confidence for all people and the sustainability of the planet. It encourages social workers to become involved in this global mass movement for change.  

The vision of leaving no-one behind requires the right people in the right place. With widespread anecdotal reporting of shortages in the social worker workforce, it is essential that we build our understanding of where these gaps are and where pressure might be felt in the future. 

The survey was completed by a relatively small sample of practising social workers, and therefore the results are only indicative. However, it is clear that more social workers are needed and this is putting pressure on the profession. Headline findings include:   

  • The number of social worker vacancies reported by survey participants for their place of employment ranged from no vacancies to more than 30. On average, survey participants reported having three vacant positions in their place of employment.  
  • The time taken to fill a vacant social worker position varied from one month to a maximum time of over a year. On average, it took an estimated three and a half months to fill a vacant social work position.  
  • If there were no resource constraints and all current vacancies were filled, survey participants indicated an outstanding demand for an average of five additional social workers within their organisation. 
  • Survey participants that worked in non-governmental organisations indicated that they struggled to fill social worker positions due to a skill shortage and the inability to compete with the salaries offered by government organisations. 
  • Survey participants suggested that the shortage of social workers within their organisations caused work stress, high workloads, and high staff turnover.  
  • Some survey participants indicated that because of the difficulty in recruiting social workers they were changing job titles to no longer require “social workers”. 

It is timely to release this information on World Social Work Day as it brings a focus on the importance and contribution of the profession.  

We want to acknowledge that social workers are working through extremely tough challenges. Not only are they having to respond to the additional pressures COVID-19 brings, they are having to cope with covering vacancies and dealing with inequitable pay and conditions.  

The emerging picture for the social work workforce is one of a mismatch between the supply of social workers and the demand for social work services. We are continuing work to describe this picture and develop materials for the sector. 

You can download the Demand for Social Work Services Report here: 

Demand for Social Work Services Report 2022