The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Enhancing Practice Skills: The Benefits of Professional Development Trainings

Friday, January 17, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Jeannine M. Rowe, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Whitewater, WI
Kayla Dunning, MSW Student, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Yiyoon Chung, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Whitewater, WI
Background and purpose:The literature on client outcomes in the helping profession identifies the importance of practice skills. It is believed that practice skills enhance the helping relationship and are linked with positive client outcomes. Consequently, social work licensing boards and other professional organizations require practitioners to enrich their practice skills throughout the course of their careers.

While professional development trainings are believed to be advantageous in enhancing practice skills, little empirical evidence exists regarding the extent to which they affect practice skills. Further, research that compares the effectiveness of a professional training across different professional groups is rare. The goal of the study was to explore whether training practitioners to utilize a care management process, offered as part of professional development training, improved their use of practice skills. Three skills specific to care management designed for family caregivers of older adults were examined. It was hypothesized that teaching practitioners a care management process would increase their levels of (1) communication skills, (2) supportive skills, and (3) linking skills.  The training program was designed and implemented around the social work education model, and within this context social workers may be more easily learn and demonstrate the skills. Therefore, it was also hypothesized social workers would show greater skill development through the training compared to other care managers. 

Methods: A pre-post-test design was used. One hundred-three care managers including social workers, nurses, and other human service professionals from eight states were included in the study. Care managers self-completed measures regarding their use of communication skills, supportive skills, and linking skills with family caregivers. Paired-samples t-tests were used to examine whether practice skills increased following the training for full sample. Multivariate regressions were used to examine whether social workers demonstrated higher skill improvement compared to other professionals.   

Results: The results provided partial support for the hypotheses. There was a significant increase in the use of communication skills (p<.001) and supportive skills (p<.001) from pre-training to post-training. The change in linking skills was positive, but not statistically significant at the 0.05 level. Social workers demonstrated qualitatively greater skill development than their counterparts, but the difference was not statistically significant. Further analyses suggest that this result was in part due to the social worker group including a larger proportion of individuals who demonstrated particularly high initial practice skill scores (i.e., therefore little room for improvement), compared to other groups.

Conclusions and Implications: The results suggest that professional training improve communication and supportive skills among care managers. This information is particularly important to agency administrators, policy makers, and other stakeholders that support family caregivers of older adults. Care managers who possess effective practice skills have the potential to positively impact client outcomes. Although concerns remain regarding the influence of time passage as a threat to causal inference, this study makes an important contribution to the literature because it provides the first empirical evidence regarding the value of ongoing training for practice skills. Future research using a comparison group would strengthen the causal inference.