Graduate trainees strike gold

“Golden hello”, “golden handshake”, “market premium” or “joining
payment” – these are all terms councils use to describe the
sweeteners they offer social workers. Authorities have been using
them for years to tackle shortages, particularly in children and
families social work. But they are increasingly targeting those
straight out of university and social work students.

Although students can qualify for a bursary of up to
£2,900, administered by the General Social Care Council, and
local authority bursaries are relatively common, Newham Council
seems to have taken payments to a new level with its “golden
grants” scheme (news, page 9, 1 September). It will offer
£10,000 in instalments to 16 final-year students in return for
at least two years’ service after they qualify.

Newham says students will also be able to take advantage of an
“extensive range” of placement opportunities in its social services
department, which has an 11 per cent vacancy rate, similar to the
national average.

Professor Jill Manthorpe, of the social care workforce research
unit at King’s College London, approves of the scheme. She says:
“£10,000 is a lot, but think about how much it costs to place
an advert.”

She also says the payments should be seen in the context of
undergraduate debt. A Community Care survey last year found that,
although three-quarters of students received a bursary, one-third
expected to run up debts of £10,000-20,000, and a further
two-fifths forecast debts of up to £10,000. Less than one in
10 had received funding from an employer to take their degree.

But councils are offering more financial support to students or
staff returning to education. The Employers’ Organisation for local
government’s 2004 social services workforce survey showed that
councils’ total expenditure on bursaries and sponsorships rose from
just over £1m in 2003 to £2.6m in 2004.

In the past, trade unions opposed extra payments, saying
salaries needed to rise overall without councils competing with
each other.

But attitudes are changing. Chris Tansley, chair of Unison’s
national social services committee, is “not incredibly hostile” to
Newham’s scheme. Although he worries about the impact such
inducements could have on the vacancy rates of other councils, he
welcomes the relief these payments offer to hard-pressed
However, he emphasises that the support graduates receive in their
first job is more important than the incentives to tempt them.

While Newham targets students almost ready to enter the
workplace, other local authorities, including Barnet, are making
longer-term commitments to people who want to become social
workers. The north London authority has run a “grow your own”
scheme in children’s social work for four years and receives about
400 applications a year for up to six places.

Its graduate trainees spend their first two years attached to
social work teams, then two more doing a masters degree at
Middlesex University. They are paid a full salary throughout – at
least £20,500 a year – and the council also covers their
tuition fees. The first students are now in their final year of
study, and when they have finished they will have to work for the
council for at least two years.

Stephen Cranfield, Barnet’s human resources officer for children
and families, says the scheme was set up “in recognition that there
was a deficit in recruiting social workers”.

“If you start off with graduates you’ve got a much bigger pool,”
he adds.

With the social work degree now established and the next wave of
students poised to start their studies, it seems likely that more
councils will follow Newham’s lead.

Manthorpe says it is time social work students had the sort of
benefits already available to other trainee public servants,
including teachers. “It’s good news for a profession that has been
worried for some time that it may not be valued.”


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