I have blogged previously about purpose and it’s time to move on to the detail – where the devil lies (alongside salvation) . The question is how do we recruit, train, support and retain an effective workforce? A workforce with the knowledge, skills and experience to change lives and systems alongside people with complex needs including homelessness, offending, substance misuse and mental ill-health. One that supports people to overcome barriers to services and engagement. A workforce that is genuine and honest about the collaborative involvement of individuals with lived experience.

It is a big ask to come up with an exhaustive list of what the workforce does and how it goes about its tasks. Anyone that has spent time drawing up job descriptions knows the lengths you can go to trying to capture everything. Equally, they know the struggles of seeking to be both precise and concise. Perhaps that’s why so many job descriptions are rarely used in guiding day-to-day work and are only got out either when there is a vacancy or a workforce problem. In projects like Fulfilling Lives (Multiple Needs) the issues are compounded because many of the roles are evolving and breaking new territory.

We do know the projects all work through some variation of keyworkers. We know that this can mean both personal, relationship-based support and service coordination or navigation. Knowing the detail of how these twin roles are demarcated and overlap will help prepare useful operational job descriptions. Understanding this demarcation will support easier job design and updating as roles evolve. It will also assist in the recruitment of workers that have the values needed to achieve project purpose and aid the provision of support and training.

The challenge is communicating the detail of how keyworkers go about their roles and tasks. We know that they achieve their purpose using relationship-based skills combined with the ability to organise and steer (navigate) through systems. Critically, they can share and develop these skills within service users. But how do you write this down in a job description sufficiently detailed to be valuable but not so prescriptive as to be inhibiting?

National Occupational Standards
My suggestion is to use National Occupational Standards (NOS). These are: statements of the standards of performance individuals must achieve when carrying out functions in the workplace, together with specifications of the underpinning knowledge and understanding. There are myriads of these and there is a tool that can be used to group NOS related to the specifics of a keyworker or any other role in the projects. Like this it is possible to build a job description that not only defines tasks, but also indicates ways of working, stresses values and approaches and is clear about specialist functions and the roles of other professionals.

The primary custodians of relevant NOS are Skills for Health and Skills for Care. Look for DANOS (Drugs and Alcohol), mental health as well as the health and social care standards. There are additionally NOS that have been developed for work with families who have multiple and complex needs, in the custodial care system and in youth work including youth justice.

NOS are useful because they have national credibility (increasing the mobility of the workforce), allow for performance measurement, identify professional development and progression needs, and link to training and qualifications. Whilst the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) closed in March 2017 the database of NOS remains. There is no requirement to use it but it does save re-inventing the wheel and thus attention can be directed to where project workers are cutting new ground or trying out different ways of working.

Some of the areas where you may wish to seek out relevant NOS are likely to be around:

  • Needs and risk assessment
  • Personalised intervention
  • Assertive engagement
  • Identifying strengths
  • Individualised action planning
  • Supporting other professionals
  • Celebrating success

If you are looking to cover issues of organisation and management you may want NOS that consider:

  • Caseload management
  • Communication
  • Joint, multi-professional and partnership working
  • Networking
  • Brokering
  • Data and information gathering
  • Outcome focussed evidence
  • Record keeping and administration
  • Appraisal, supervision, personal development, systems and other matters of operational management

As always with detail there is a danger of becoming over complicated. The art of job design and workforce role development is having a continuous process of review and refinement. It is my hope that the suggestions outlined here assist those processes.

Do let me know about:

  • How your project has designed its job roles
  • Where you have found the materials provided by bodies like Skills for Health and Skills for Care useful
  • What the evaluation and learning team can do to enhance and share good practice in workforce development related to Fulfilling Lives.

I can be contacted on vic.citarella@cpea.co.uk 07947 680 488 and I am especially interested in hearing from people who have a workforce blog to contribute.

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