Putting people first – building a social services workforce for a changing world

By Rainer Binder, Global Managing Director, Health & Public Service, Accenture

Social services agencies, always under pressure, have faced relentlessly increasing demands over the past few years. The social services workforce has been at the forefront of supporting citizens. They are a vital lifeline for many, from coping with the pandemic to addressing the ongoing impacts of the energy crisis caused by the invasion of Ukraine.

Agencies need to address longer-term trends, too. There’s the need to provide personalised and tailored ‘cradle to grave’ services built around significant life events, for one. More collaboration with other agencies is also critical, as is sharing and using data to drive insights that support proactive approaches to social support. And all this is in a context where many social services employees, like their counterparts in other sectors, are re-evaluating their career choices.

Innovation to the fore

Innovation has a crucial role to play in the design and delivery of social services. But it’s also crucial for supporting workers with the tools and information they need to be as effective as possible and provide them with the satisfying careers they want and deserve. AI and automation, for example, can relieve much of the burden of routine administration that prevents social workers from focusing on what gives them the greatest satisfaction: helping people.

Finding hidden workers, and helping employees belong

Changing employee expectations and the scarcity of suitable talent are both key issues for social services agencies right now. Two recent pieces of Accenture research shed some light on both the problems and their potential solutions.

The first, Better to Belong, looks at the ways in which employee expectations are changing and what organisations should focus on in response. People want greater autonomy and flexibility at work, with a democratised experience through which they’re empowered to manage their careers. They want personalised opportunities for growth and learning and an emphasis on their mental, physical and financial well-being. They want to work in a purpose-led organisation where they can live out the values that matter to them. And they want inspiring, empathetic leadership and collaborative team-based approaches.

The second piece of research highlights the potential of a large group of people that organisations’ standard recruitment practices often exclude. These ‘hidden workers’ are keen to join employment and often, when given the opportunity, exceed the performance of those recruited via conventional approaches. To make the most of them, organisations need to make sure that as they look for talent they are prioritising potential, filtering candidates ‘in’ rather than setting attributes that exclude the majority and third, transforming their culture.

Real challenges, virtual solutions

Emerging technologies are also helping to effect positive change. The metaverse is one. While it may appear to be some way from mainstream adoption, it is in fact already being put to use in social services. For example, the Accenture Virtual Experience Solution (AVEnueS) uses virtual reality to train social service caseworkers. It places them in realistic scenarios which enable them to gain skills and know-how that would otherwise take years to develop.

Social services have never been more important, or more challenging. The workforce is at the heart of making the changes and adaptations that supporting all citizens in the 21st century requires. During the cross-sector panel discussion we’ll be focusing on these issues (and more) in-depth. It promises to be a fascinating discussion.