How to switch to a career in social work
It’s never too late to switch careers and the social work profession is a popular choice for those later in life. We have written about how to start your social work career, outlining the entry criteria, required qualifications, and necessary skills that social workers need to gain registration.In December 2019, Skills for Care published a report on social work education in England. It found that students enrolling in both undergraduate and postgraduate social work courses were older than their counterparts on other courses; 33% of social work undergraduates and around 51% of postgraduates were aged 30 or above.With this in mind, let’s look at how easy it is to switch to a career in social work.Do I need to have any previous experience?To become a social worker, you need to have an approved qualification, such as an undergraduate or master’s degree, before gaining professional registration. During your studies, you will work in placements allowing you to underpin your theoretical knowledge with practical training.Whilst previous experience is not essential when you begin your study, there are clear parallels from many other job roles that could aid your work as a social worker. For example, those who have worked in childcare settings, healthcare or probation roles, housing, mental health or youth justice positions will have strong insights into what to expect.You may also have voluntary experiences such as working with children or vulnerable groups which could be beneficial to your role. Softer skills such as the ability to speak different languages or the ability to communicate through sign language could be highly sought after and hugely beneficial to your new social work job.What type of study is best for you?You may need to consider how you will balance your training with any responsibilities you have, such as a young family.Undergraduate social work courses take four years to complete, whilst postgraduate master’s qualifications can take up to two years full-time or up to six years, part-time.Benefiting from fast-track initiativesIf you’re keen to get started as soon as possible then you may wish to look at some of the available fast-track initiatives. These are dedicated training programmes which have been designed to help highly skilled applicants get into work as soon as possible. Unlike traditional postgraduate studies, these are vocational training programmes which allow you to work as you study.The three most popular options are Frontline, Step Up to Social Work and Think Ahead.Frontline offers two distinct programmes for those wishing to work in children’s services: Frontline and Firstline. It is a two-year course and participants will qualify as registered social workers at the end of their first year. The Firstline programme focuses on helping qualified social workers become outstanding leaders.Step Up to Social Work is a full-time, fully funded government programme which allows you to become qualified in just 14 months. It’s an ideal initiative for those who want to train as a social worker but cannot afford to move away from paid employment.Think Ahead is a two-year scheme specifically for those who wish to specialise in mental health social work.We have written a selection of pieces around starting and navigating your social work career.
Myth-busting – the truth about a great social work career
We’ve deconstructed some myths below to uncover the truth about a career in social work. Myth #1 - There’s no variety in social workSocial work is diverse and incredibly flexible, allowing you to carve the career you want.If you’re interested in working as a children’s social worker, for example, you could choose to work in child protection settings or a fostering team. You could specialise in helping children with their mental health through Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or you could look after children with disabilities.Similarly, for those choosing to specialise in adult services, there is plenty of diversity. Common roles specialise in working with older people, hospital social work or working with adults impacted by learning disabilities.Myth #2 - Anyone can call themselves a social worker‘Social worker’ is a protected title. Only those with an approved qualification and who are fully registered with their regulatory body are allowed to call themselves a social worker. This aids the credibility of the profession which is often seen as a frontline emergency service, behind the police, fire and ambulance brigades.Myth #3 - Social work is just a jobFor social workers, it’s never just a job. It’s a vocation where they can make a difference to someone’s life. Great social work practice is about making a meaningful impact and understanding that the relationships you build can have a lasting effect.Myth #4 - Social work is poorly paidLike many other professions, social work salaries are based upon experience and responsibility. For newly qualified social workers who have completed their training, they can expect to earn between £25-30k per annum. Earning potential will increase as you progress, regardless of what service you are working in.If you are interested in moving into social work and already have a degree, you could benefit from a fully-funded post-graduate diploma via the Frontline fast track scheme. Applicants will be able to combine learning whilst they earn, with opportunities to receive a tax and NI exempt bursary of £18,000 or £20,000 in London.Myth #5 - There’s a lack of career progression for social workersOur blog on social work career progression explores the linear and sideways steps you can take. Locum social workers are likely to gain experience across a variety of settings and have plenty of opportunities to progress their career.If you have any questions about the social work profession, please get in touch.
How to progress your social work career
As you gain more experience as a social work practitioner, you may turn your thoughts to career progression – namely, what might you expect to achieve and what to expect at different levels of seniority. Social work is an incredibly diverse profession and offers great flexibility – whilst some practitioners may be keen to rise up the ranks into managerial positions, others are happy to continue working directly with adults or children and families.With this in mind, we look at what you could expect from your career and how we can help you at every step of the way. What is the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF)?The first thing you should be aware of is the Professionals Capability Framework. This is a dedicated resource outlining professional development for social workers in England. The PCF works in partnership with the Knowledge and Skills Statements (KSS) which clearly define what social workers should know and be able to do in different settings and at different levels of seniority. There are two distinct KSS which refer to adults and children and families. To understand more about how the two resources align together, we highly recommend reading the guidance provided by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).Starting as a newly qualified social workerDuring your first social work job, you will be classed as a newly qualified social worker (NQSW) and will possibly be participating in an Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) scheme. Your employer will assess your skills against the PCF and determine whether you are meeting the national standards as required by Social Work England.What is an advanced practitioner social work job role?Many practitioners are not tempted by managerial or team manager social work jobs because they want to keep working directly with adults or children and families. For these social workers, advanced practitioner jobs are the ideal blend of experience and progression.Social workers can move into niche areas from there, such as independent reviewing officer (IRO) jobs or practice educator positions. These roles are about shaping the development of peers and helping to influence how the social work profession will continue to deliver positive outcomes for those in need.How can I move into social work management?For those who are keen to benefit from a linear career progression and have ambitions to work as a social work team manager (or higher) then there are plenty of opportunities for career progression.Whilst team manager social work jobs are about leading teams and ensuring that everyone is working effectively, other roles such as service managers, heads of service and commissioning managers to take on a more strategic role. It’s about evolving and developing services to ensure delivering statutory care is being delivered.Whatever your ambitions are, we are uniquely placed to help you. To find out how, please get in touch. We have also written a selection of pieces around starting and navigating your social work career.