Only 34% of people in social care jobs are happy with their career prospects – below the national average of 38%. Fewer management tiers in many social work departments can mean a longer wait for promotion than other sectors. Better pay is no longer the most important aspect of career progression – doing work that lets workers learn new things and meet new people is now top priority.

Social care jobs and career progression.

Social workers are among the least happy in the UK when it comes to their career progression, according to research by specialist recruiter Randstad Care.

In a survey of over 2,000 British workers, only 38% of the UK workforce said they were content with their career progression. But only 34% of those working in social work were happy with how they were advancing in their careers. Those working in rail, engineering, retail, accountancy, wholesale and media were also below average.

By contrast, those working in insurance, property, law, financial services, leisure, health, IT & telecoms and education were happier than average with their career progression. There appears to be little relationship between headcount growth in different sectors and how satisfied people are with their career progression. For example, the number of people working in insurance – the sector in which people were most happy with their career progression – did not expand between 2009 and 2012, according to the Office of National Statistics, while those working in IT & Telecommunications, the sector that expanded most between 2009 and 2012 (44% growth between 2009 and 2012), were only marginally happier than the rest of the country’s workforce. The social work sector expanded by 4% between 2009 and 2012, yet this has not resulted in greater satisfaction with career progression.

Victoria Short, managing director of Randstad Care, explains: “We expected to find a relationship at some level between career progression in a sector and job growth. But the figures don’t bear this out. We think this points to employee satisfaction in terms of how their career progression is being managed, rather than simply the volume of opportunities on offer in a given sector.”

Promotions during a recession.

Frustration with career progression in sectors like media, wholesale and social care may be explained by organisations’ reactions to the recession. The economic downturn has led to some employers abandoning promotion schedules – assuming that the mere existence of a job should be enough to keep and motivate existing staff. In terms of the public sector, some professions have been hit harder than others in terms of Government cuts, which may explain why social workers and teachers are less happy with their career progression than nurses.

Victoria Short, managing director of Randstad Care, explains: “Employers generally are having to make difficult choices when deciding where and how to reduce costs in response to the economic climate. Management tiers in social work environments are making tough decisions at a time when their budgets are being reduced. If this was a conventional downturn, most employees would have accepted the lack of promotions as a temporary setback or the price of protecting their job in difficult times. But this isn’t a temporary downturn and as a result, the UK is left with a talent time-bomb – a bomb that’s likely to go off as alternative jobs become available.

“Social workers are being particularly hard hit by lack of promotions. Many social care departments do not contain as many management tiers as other professions, meaning that there can be a larger jump from one role to another. If organisations do not look after their best employees, they could find their best staff moving elsewhere.”

What does career progression mean to people today?

In further research carried out by Randstad, when asked to think back twelve years and remember what they though the most important elements of career progression were, 62% of respondents said better pay, making it the most important factor. However, when asked what they thought the most important elements of career progression were today, the most popular factor was Doing work that lets me learn new things, meet new people and participate in different projects – an option chosen by 74% of respondents.

Victoria Short added: “Employees are redefining the meaning of career progression. While long-term job security has always been more important to social workers than pay, the whole concept of a career as an upward progression through a sequence of roles in one organisation has changed. Flexibility in the workforce means that for many a career doesn’t involve lateral progression: it may be a series of moves that go sideways, or even backwards, crossing occupational and organisational boundaries, while for others it is simply increasing their skill sets.”