Strengthening the social work profession

“Social workers are a vital and important workforce, with their work on the frontline more challenging and more valuable than ever as they support their communities” says Sarah Clark, Chief Executive of the Social Workers Registration Board on the first anniversary of mandatory registration for social workers.

The introduction of mandatory registration in February last year was a key step in enhancing the status of the social work profession and providing the public with the additional level of protection that a regulated workforce brings.

The number of registered social workers continues to grow and there are now a record 11,000 social workers listed on the Social Worker Registration Board’s official register. This compares with around 10,000 this time last year, and in 2018/19 – the year before mandatory registration – there were 7,800.

However, the record numbers registered masks the trend of fewer social work graduates entering the social work profession and the number of social worker vacancies being hard to recruit to.

Today we are publishing our Annual Workforce Report 2021, which is based on feedback from over 4,400 social workers representing nearly half of the current practising social worker workforce.

Headline findings include:

  • Workforce composition – Nearly 85% of the workforce identified as female. The average age of participants in the survey was 48 years old. The most common ethnic identities were New Zealand European, followed by Māori.
  • Workforce sustainability – Around 13% of the workforce indicated they were planning to leave the workforce or reduce their hours in some capacity. Salaries for social workers employed by non-government organisations were lower than those who worked in government organisations. The largest respondent group was aged 51-60 years old, which suggests an ageing social worker workforce.
  • Knowledge and skills development – The top three areas identified by participants for skills and/or knowledge development were: understanding of legislation and policy affecting social work, skills around trauma informed practice and working with Māori.
  • Employer support and supervision – Around 50% of participants reported that their employers provided them with support through supportive work environments, professional reflective supervision, and relevant training and skill development.

This is the first workforce report we have published since SWRB was assigned the role of lead agency for social worker workforce planning by Cabinet last year.

The annual survey on which the report is based had a record return in 2021. This is largely due to being able to use the new registration database to invite social workers to complete the survey as they renewed their practising certificates. In addition, this was the first time the survey was conducted since the registration of social workers was mandatory. These two factors combined gives us even greater confidence in the findings of the report being representative of the whole social worker workforce.

Sarah Clark adds: “On this anniversary of mandatory registration, I would like to thank social workers for their incredibly valuable dedication, care, expertise, and professional approach. We are looking forward to building on these insights when we undertake the next survey towards the middle of the year.” The report is available to download from our Publications page

Published 27 February 2022