Grant enables state workforce assessment

NASW Idaho Chapter works with state’s labor department to help boost social work job sector.

When it comes to assessing workforce trends, NASW and its chapters assist states and the Bureau of Labor Statistics in reviewing information for accuracy and providing essential feedback from social work stakeholders relating to workforce development efforts.

Thanks to a grant that is part of the Affordable Care Act’s workforce planning component, the NASW Idaho Chapter is working with the Idaho Department of Labor to properly assess the state’s social work workforce as part of its health care workforce research project.

The effort has the potential to boost the workforce by up to 25 percent in coming years, depending on the results.

NASW Idaho Chapter Executive Director Delmar Stone is serving on the project’s Health Care Workforce Planning Committee and is excited that the initiative is identifying health care workforce needs for the state’s residents.

“Because of this grant, we are able to do a lot of what is proposed in the federal Social Work Reinvestment Act at the state level,” said Stone. The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1106/S. 584) seeks to secure federal and state investments in professional social work to enhance societal well-being.

“I see this as a win-win for everybody,” Stone added. “It is a great thing that has happened for the profession.”

Cheryl Foster, a senior research analyst with the Idaho Department of Labor, said having professional associations such as NASW review data is a vital component to the overall effort.

“As researchers we do the best we can to acquire all the information we can about a profession, but it is no substitute for someone who is in the field,” she said. “We expect the Health Care Workforce Planning Committee to provide guidance into the issues that we are researching and to verify that our research results are grounded in reality.”

Foster said that while the Department of Labor publishes current employment, wages and employment projections data by standard occupation codes, there is a need for detailed information.

“So we turn to alternative sources such as licensure boards and professional associations,” she said.

Such input is helpful on several levels.

“For example, the standard occupation codes for social workers do not distinguish by education level,” Foster noted. “However, by using licensure information, we can count the number of licensed clinical social workers, which is much more useful to health care policy planners.

“Professional organizations can provide additional information such as practice settings or specializations of their members,” Foster continued. “Besides providing membership roster information, professional organizations also conduct their own surveys and write reports on their profession that can be useful to workforce planning.”

Besides social work, the effort is gathering workforce data for other mental health care professionals as well as those who work in primary care and dental care.

Stone said that when the data is reviewed in a final report expected later this year, the information can be used to rationalize workforce implementation grants. “The findings may propose several workforce incentives,” he said. “The report may suggest another social work master’s program be started or that more recruitment efforts take place in high schools. Whatever is suggested, NASW will be involved with it.”

Growing Profession

The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites social work as one of the professions expected to grow by 25 percent from 2010 to 2020, an average that beats the faster-than-average rate for all occupations.

Tracy Whitaker, director of the NASW Center for Workforce Studies & Social Work Practice, noted that when BLS officials update information on social workers in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, they often seek NASW’s input in the review process.

This year, a new entry has been made that positions professional social workers as preferred hires in a management job category called “Social and Community Service Managers.”

The BLS estimates 134,000 of these positions with an average annual salary of $57,950. The handbook lists NASW and the Network for Social Work Managers as professional contacts for these particular jobs.

“We are pleased that the BLS is acknowledging the roles that many macro-level social workers have in their organizations,” Whitaker said.