Universities and employers use new tactics to attract more people to social care-related courses

Attracting fresh talent is key to the survival and growth of any sector and social care is no exception. Universities and employers are introducing innovative ways to encourage people to train in social work and social care, and to make careers in these sectors more appealing.

Helen Wenman, head of education inspection at the General Social Care Council, spent a decade working in children’s social services after qualifying with a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work in the 1970s. She became a social work lecturer and then joined the GSCC. She recognises the need to find fresh talent. “Universities are trying to work much more with local communities, schools and colleges to attract people into their courses,” she says.

Between 1995 and 2003 there was a dip in the number of people studying the old social work diploma. After the social work degree was launched in 2003 this reversed, but since 2005 the number of students studying social work has fallen again and now only 5,000 are on GSCC-approved social work degree courses in England.

Wenman partly puts the fall down to the availability of practice learning opportunities. She points out that universities can get into difficulties for taking on more students than they have practice placements. But she says media coverage is also to blame: “We have anecdotes from universities that they think applications have been down since the Baby P case. We have also heard about students on existing courses being concerned about their future careers because of the tone of publicity.”

In a bid to attract more people into public sector-related training, some universities are creating new courses, like the University of Lincoln’s part-time certificate in social care and Manchester Metropolitan University‘s (MMU) professional doctorate for healthcare practitioners. At Lincoln University 25 of the 31 students who started the course in 2006 completed it, and 15 continued on to its BSc in social work.

MMU programme leader and senior lecturer in health care studies Carol Taylor says it was necessary to offer the equivalent of a PhD to meet the growing demand from existing practitioners.

The part-time doctorates in social care and in community health are taught over five years through a mix of face-to-face and online learning. “This method of learning will bolster people, and the reaction has already been favourable,” Taylor says. “Undergraduates are already asking what continuing professional development is available for them later on.”

Three initiatives attracting students to social care-related courses and careers

1. Hands on experience

Canterbury Christ Church University (CCU) in Kent has developed an unusual way to attract students to its degree courses. It has attracted 108 sixth-formers from eight Kent secondary schools to take part in a year-long initiative as part of its Gateway programme.

The students each complete 15 hours of sessions at CCU and 35 hours of additional study. Those who pass receive a Certificate in Preparation for Careers in Public Services and 10 credits for their Universities and Colleges Admissions Service application form.

Martin Bailey, CCU’s senior lecturer in clinical sciences and nursing studies and lead for Gateway’s health element, says the initiative helps to identify the links between health and social care for students who may wish to pursue a related career.

“People see nursing as only wiping bums and mopping up sick, but there is a great deal more to it than that,” he says. “We show students the clinical side in hospital and also what care is provided in the community, and how rewarding this can be for practitioners.”

One of the participants in CCU’s mock hospital wing, which is complete with fake body parts and hospital equipment, is 16-year-old Liam Branchett. He is studying A-levels in biology, chemistry, physics and maths, and is interested in medicine. He decided to take part in the course because he was inspired by his mother, who works as a learning disabilities nurse.

“When I first came to CCU, I wasn’t sure about working in health,” he says. “But now I know about some of the different things the staff do, and it’s not just medicine.”

Mollie Marshall, 17, wants to work with children after completing her BTech in sport and A-levels in sociology and psychology. Her mother is a foster carer and she has seen her interact with social workers.

“I’ve always wanted to work with kids, and rather than do it from behind a computer I’d prefer something more practical. I like to be up and about and busy,” she says.

However, some course participants have not been persuaded of the link between health and social care.

Hannah Crawford, 16, is studying three sciences at A-level. It has been her ambition to be a doctor or a nurse since she was a child. “I like the idea of helping people and I am good at sciences,” she says. “I’d like to specialise in accident and emergency because you get a bit of everything. I don’t think social work helps people directly.”

2. Volunteer programme

Youth volunteering organisation V has launched a £10.5m government-funded programme to encourage 16-to 25-year-olds in England to volunteer. Its V Talent Year programme is being piloted in 32 councils and aims to give 1,000 young people the chance to influence and enhance public services and improve their skills by volunteering in children’s and young people’s services. V also hopes that its programme will raise awareness about careers in the public sector and generate future workers.

Each council taking part in the scheme will receive £285,000 to cover the cost of supporting 15 local young people a year for two years through a 44-week placement. A placement supervisor will be attached to each local authority to provide support.

Suad Mohamed, 21, is one of the V Talent Year volunteers. She began her placement in Brent Council’s children and young people’s service at the start of April. Already studying an access course in nursing, she says she volunteered to work with disabled children in her local authority because not enough non-disabled young people have contact with them.

“Young people today don’t have any good role models and they act on what they see on TV, like gun crime and selling drugs,” Mohamed says. “I’ve witnessed this at close hand. “Being cool is about getting a good education and having a good job, not dealing drugs. Working in social care is far more rewarding.”

3. Supported placements

Sutton Council launched its Into Childcare Recruitment Project in April 2004. It has helped 110 people into working in childcare 11 of them were men and nine are still employed in the London borough. The project ended last month but has been expanded and renamed the Into Recruitment Project.

Under the scheme, people have been supported in work placements in childcare services while they study the subject at NVQ level. Employability co-ordinator Caroline Watson oversees the project. She says the Into Childcare Recruitment Project has proved an invaluable way to attract people into childcare work who otherwise might not have considered it. This, she says, is beneficial for all parties.

“It is important for children to have different influences in their lives and we welcome diversity,” she says. “It’s good to have positive role models for children – especially male role models.”

Chris Pilbro, 18, is one of the young men who went on the project. He completed work experience in a school while studying for a childcare course at college. Coming from a family of builders, he says his career choice is somewhat unusual but he is very happy with it and has been a nursery assistant for the past 20 months.

“I like the bond I have with children and I like the satisfaction of seeing the children in the nursery looking happy,” he says.

This article appears in the 9 April issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Building the future workforce

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