Considering a switch from social work to a probation job role?
By Liam Dale
Since the announcement that the government will be re-nationalising offender supervision in England and Wales, we’ve seen a notable increase in the number of people considering a career in probation. The sector can bring a rewarding career full of opportunities to make a tangible difference to local communities.
Probation workers specialise in helping people change their lives for the better. It’s not just about working closely with offenders; it’s about supporting victims of crime, working with charities and helping local people to feel safe and secure.
Similarities to social work
Our experience has shown us that probation jobs are a popular choice for social workers who are looking for a new career challenge. It’s easy to see why; there are many similarities between the two sectors.
Both social workers and probation officers tend to have strong interpersonal, problem-solving and analytical skills. They can also relate and empathise with people from different backgrounds. There is a shared commitment in helping people live their best lives.
To demonstrate how varied this work can be, we’ve examined a selection of CVs to help us explain exactly what you might expect from every stage of a probation career.
Probation service officer roles are an accessible entry into the sector, whilst those who have more experience or a relevant degree will be eligible for probation officer jobs.
If you are considering applying for a probation job role within the National Probation Service (NPS), you will be invited to attend a dedicated interview day. These days are held across the UK by NPS staff and during the sessions, you’ll undertake a variety of activities including decision-making tests, competency questions and an individual interview. These days are open to anyone, although if you have any relevant experience (from the housing sector, the criminal justice sector or voluntary groups, for example) you may find yourself at an advantage.
If you’d like to discover more about the specific qualifications, we highly recommend exploring the HM Prison & Probation website; it’s packed full of useful advice for prospective probation workers.
During your early career, you may be supported by senior members of the team. You’ll be given immediate responsibility for handling caseloads and compiling comprehensive reports. You’ll also be expected to work in multi-agency settings, giving you the opportunity to learn how other teams and departments work.
If you’re working in a probation service officer role, you may find that your employer will support you to complete a Level 5 NVQ, which is equivalent to a higher education diploma/foundation degree. This qualification will enable you to become a probation officer.
Senior Probation Officer
At this stage of your career, you may start to supervise other officers and become involved in service delivery projects; helping to design and deliver practical interventions. It's likely you will work regularly with external sources such as police, prisons, social work teams or mental health services.
Some of our experienced candidates have branched out into other opportunities. For some, it may be the delivery of training programmes or working as practice development assessors. Others have moved into the management of youth offending teams, applied premises or approved programme units.
The flexibility of probation work means that you can continue to gain relevant experience whilst working in specialist areas without being pigeon-holed into one specific niche.
Leadership and managerial roles
Beyond the frontline probation roles, there are opportunities to progress into leadership and managerial positions. There is little frontline work with offenders; most of the job activities relate to the management of risk to the public and service delivery.
At this stage of your career, you may become heavily involved in bid design and writing as well as assisting in wider business and commercial development activities.
Opportunities for additional income
The probation sector offers ample opportunities for overtime and flexible hours which will allow you to supplement your income beyond that of your current job role. You may find that you want to supervise community payback work, or perhaps work within a probation hostel.
Opportunities to earn more through overtime or supplementary jobs are available for both probation service officers and probation officers. This flexible approach means that a career within the sector can be a good choice for those looking for a challenge.