how to start a career in probation, what’s the difference between a probation officer and a probation services officer? what skills should probation officers have? what is the career progression for probation workers? how much do probation officers earn?

How to start a career in probation

By Liam Dale

​The probation sector offers an opportunity to help people who may need support and guidance in making positive decisions. Probation officer jobs are not just about working alongside offenders, they are about providing extensive support to victims of crime, supporting charities and ensuring that communities feel safe and protected.

What’s the difference between a Probation Officer and a Probation Services Officer?

There are two primary roles within the probation sector - Probation Services Officers (PSO) and Probation Officers.

Probation Services Officer jobs are entry-level and an accessible way to start your career. You do not need any specific qualifications – although you may benefit from experience (paid or voluntary) in relevant sectors such as mental health, housing, prison or social care settings. As a PSO, you will be responsible for assessing and managing the risks posed by offenders and working with courts and other agencies to provide full support.

Probation Officers are more senior. They require a relevant degree (such as criminal justice, behavioural science or social work) or a level 5 qualification. As well as handling similar tasks to PSO’s, probation officers can become involved in service delivery projects – helping to design and implement interventions or they can choose to specialise in specific areas.

What skills should probation officers have?

The following skills and attributes are essential in working in these roles:

  • An understanding of the criminal justice system

  • Ability to persuade and influence others

  • Empathy and understanding

  • Excellent communication skills – written and oral

  • Resilient and motivated

  • Strong decision-making skills

What is the career progression for probation workers?

If you work as a PSO, you can apply to participate in the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQIP) programme; a full-time, work-based learning initiative allowing you to gain the qualifications required to move up to a probation officer role.

The probation officer role is flexible. You can choose to specialise in a niche area, or you can work in multi-agency settings, giving you more experience across many areas. There is scope to get involved in service design and delivery as well as moving into managerial and team leadership positions.

Due to its similarities to social work, probation jobs are often a popular career option for social workers looking for a new professional challenge.

How can I apply for a probation job?

To start work as either a PSO or a probation officer, you will need to apply via the National Probation Service. During the application process, you will need to participate in an online assessment. Successful applicants will be invited to a national assessment centre for further consideration.

We recommend visiting the probationservicesofficer.co.uk and traintobeaprobationofficer.com websites to find out more about the specific application processes.

How much do probation officers earn?

A Probation Services Officer salary can range from £22-27k per annum, whilst a probation officer salary is between £22-40k per annum.

You can choose to work in permanent employment, or you could benefit from the flexibility of agency probation jobs. You can also supplement your income through the supervision of community payback work.

For more information and resources on starting a probation career, please visit our careers hub.