Choosing your career is one of the most important decisions you
will make but it doesn’t end there, writes Nathalie
Towner. You will continue to make choices throughout
your working life. The day-to-day challenges of social work may
take precedence over where your career is heading but it is
important to make time to think things through. If you plan your
career well, instead of leaving everything to chance, you are more
likely to get the most out of opportunities.
The more you think about what you want out of your job the
more likely you are to go in a direction best suited to you.
“Social work is a difficult job and we need to think about what our
strengths are so we can use them to best effect,” says Pat Leach,
senior practitioner, child protection (immediate needs) team at
Ipswich Council. “If you work out how you can best fit into your
organisation, you will increase your job satisfaction so it’s
important to know yourself and what you enjoy.” When planning ahead
you should consider everything that is important to you. Think of
your own needs and responsibilities outside work and review these
regularly. “If we are fulfilled we will try our hardest and deliver
the best service for our clients,” says Leach.
Research your future
Gaining as much information as possible on any career move will
help you make an informed choice. Jackie Keegan, social worker for
Cheshire Council’s adult and community service, switched to social
work after 18 years in IT marketing. “I really had to think it
through and go on a lengthy process of research and consider all
the practicalities,” she explains. She spoke to many people in the
sector, particularly front-line social workers and did online
research plus voluntary work to see beyond the theory.
We all get stuck in a rut at times so it’s important to
have goals that give us direction. To help you define your
objectives, use all the help from other staff that is available.
“Supervision has really helped me identify my learning needs,” says
Keegan. “It’s important to take time out to reflect on where you
want to go with your career.” Good supervision will help you find
where your strengths lie and should focus on your whole career not
just your current role.
Work your way up
If you are ambitious and want to take on a more senior role, be
honest with your team leader as they may let you take on more
responsibilities in your current role. Offer to take on extra
projects, especially any that involve learning new skills. Make the
most of any study opportunities and keep your post-registration
training up to date. Wherever you see yourself in the future, you
will first need to master the job at practitioner level. “You can’t
move too quickly as otherwise you won’t have the experience of what
being a social worker is about,” says Leach. “If you want to
supervise staff or manage budgets you need to understand what is
going on at ground level.”
A career plan is an important tool but don’t be too rigid about
where you see yourself going. “The world of social care is changing
rapidly,” says Leach. “You can’t be too fixed about where you’re
going to be in five years’ time.” She advises having a two-year
plan but says thinking any further ahead is not realistic.
“Concentrate on your job, get the most out of it, go for more
training if it will make you better at your job and if at the end
of two years you’ve done all you can it is time to move on.”