How to become a Social Worker: Summary of panel event

This is the second post in our 5-part mini-series summarising the Public Affairs and Community Engagement Panel event we ran on 11th March 2015.  Other posts in the series can be viewed by clicking on the ‘PACE Event’ tag either at the bottom of this post or in the tag cloud on the right.

What is social work?

Social work is any work carried out by a qualified person which sets out to support and help people who are suffering in the community.  It aims to contribute towards the safeguarding of vulnerable people, while improving the quality of their lives.  Issues can be around anything including; finance, substance abuse, old age, isolation, mental health, abuse, housing, abandonment and so on.

The panel was made up of representatives from Think Ahead and the University of Leeds’ BA and MA in Social Work programmes, as well as a Leeds alumnus who is a Social Worker working at Wakefield Children’s Services.

Range of roles and typical entry points for graduates

The typical role people think about when looking at this sector is that of a Social Worker.  Social Worker is a graduate profession and is a protected title which means you must have completed an accredited qualification (undergraduate or postgraduate) and be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) in order to use the title or become a Social Worker.

There are two main routes to qualification; the academic route and routes which combine work and study.

Academic route:

You can take an undergraduate or a postgraduate programme approved by the HCPC to qualify as a Social Worker.  You can find the HCPC’s register of approved programmes here.  For entry onto a postgraduate course, you will need a minimum of a 2:2 degree. Many institutions (including Leeds) require a minimum of a 2.1 for entry onto the postgraduate programme. Most course providers will also want to see evidence of previous relevant experience.

Combining work and study:

There are a number of paid routes combining the academic study with on the job training which enable you to train for certain areas of social work.

  • Think Ahead is a relatively new organisation offering postgraduate training to graduates from any degree discipline, on a 2-year fast track course which will see them become qualified in mental health social care.
  • Frontline is a similar organisation which combines on the job training and academic study over a 2-year period to become qualified in children’s social work.
  • The government’s Step up to Social Work programme offers a similar route to Frontline over 14 months.

Other areas of social care include counselling, psychotherapy, probation work, careers guidance, equality and diversity, asylum and youth work.  You can find links to more information about these, and other related careers, in the ‘Sources of further information and support’ section at the end of this post.

Skills and experience needed

All of these roles will require experience in areas relating to social care – this can be personal as well as with an unconnected organisation.   Experience of working with vulnerable individuals or groups will be particularly useful.

These roles involve almost continuous contact with people who are some of the most vulnerable within our societies.  Life experience, resilience, a passion for the role and empathy, all backed with academic knowledge, is how the Social Worker on the panel described the skills required!

General tips and advice

Often, areas of the community seen by professionals in this sector can be extreme and far removed from their own lives.  It is imperative that a non judgemental, unbiased and emotionally unattached approach is used when supporting these individuals. Gaining experience working with vulnerable people or those affected by the issues you are likely to encounter as a social worker will help prepare you and give you a greater chance of success.

Keeping up to date with legislation is essential due to the complexity of issues and governing laws affecting the social care sector.

Sources of further information and advice

  • The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) – is the professional body representing social workers in the UK and provides lots of useful information and advice, including about entry into the profession
  • The College of Social Work (TCSW) – is an independent body representing and supporting the Social Work profession and provides lots of useful information and advice, including about entry into the profession
  • Skills for care – has information about the range of careers in the adult social care sector.
  • Prospects – information about wider job roles in the social care sector
  • The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) – is a service improvement agency and independent charity aimed at sharing best practice and knowledge for the improvement of the sector.
  • Social Work information and resources on careerweb
  • Drop-in – You can use our drop-in service to discuss career ideas, questions, or to get help with job-searching, applications, interviews or anything else career-related.  Open Mondays-Fridays 9am – 4pm.

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