by Nushra Mansuri
I have to confess that one of my guilty pleasures in life is avidly watching The Apprentice each time it comes around, including the trailers leading up to any forthcoming series which form part of the whole experience for me.
However, it was a bit of a surprise last week, to see my little bit of escapism collide with something that is much closer to my reality – social work!
There he was, larger than life – Steven Ugoloah, the first social worker ever to be amongst the candidates in the programme’s 10-year history. Suddenly, my worlds were blurred – can social work be blended with light entertainment? Where would this leave me in terms of my social work ethics and values?
To my enormous relief, the programme stayed true to form with the usual jockeying for position by the 20 candidates at the beginning of the process, desperate to make their identity known to one another and the world at large.
Given that Steven is a social worker some of our own assumptions might have led us to believe that he would come across as over-accommodating and self-effacing but no refreshingly, he very much wrote his own script.
He certainly was not anonymous during the first episode and literally was quick off the blocks in making an impression rather like Marmite – you either loved him or hated him as some of the posts and tweets would confirm as well as comments from his team members.
This brings to mind one of my internal phrases – I did not choose a career in social work to be popular, perhaps Steven also subscribes to this received wisdom. It was quite astonishing to hear familiar phrases such as ‘witch hunt’ and ‘scape goat’ juxtaposed with social worker in a series of The Apprentice. This was just a bit surreal for me.
I was particularly struck when I read some of the negative posts by social workers about Steven before the programme had even aired in response to his claims to be the best social worker in the world etc.
This made me stop and think about us as a profession. We are so used to being in the firing line that we can be hyper sensitive to anything to do with social work that may put us in a less than favourable light.
I remember getting caught up in my own angst when asked to do a review of the sitcom Damned featuring Jo Brand. I was surprisingly tense and twitchy about every inaccuracy and gross exaggeration of social work firmly believing that this would not be seen as humorous by the public but rather fuel for their fire.
Actually, the reaction ended up being a good one and people were more than able to see the funny side of things. I have decided to adopt a similar approach to Steven on The Apprentice taking it very much with tongue in cheek unless he does anything that seriously brings him into conflict with the HCPC of course.
Whilst it was slightly unnerving watching one of my favourite programmes being invaded by social work I also remembered what it is I like so much about The Apprentice – observing human behaviour and group dynamics (surely these are strong pull factors for all social workers).
At this stage of the proceedings I had a sense of foreboding given that the knives were out, but mercifully Steven was granted a stay of execution thanks to the astute Nick and, ultimately, Lord Sugar himself who told the project manager in no uncertain terms that he would take a very dim view if a person is brought back into the boardroom for the wrong reasons.
It is slightly ironic that what some people see as the unscrupulous world of capitalism took a stand in terms of the ‘blame game’ – politicians in this country please take note. So how will Steven fare from now on? We don’t know but I hope that his time in The Apprentice gives us all the opportunity to see that there is more to him than his rather ostentatious resumé.
Hopefully, we will get to see some of his more endearing qualities over the coming few weeks but I admire his courage for putting himself forward and would urge us all not to be too earnest about a social worker taking part in the show but to take it for what it is – entertainment.
So watch out Strictly, X Factor, and Great British Bake Off.
The Apprentice, and Steven Ugoalah, return on BBC One at 9pm tonight. You can follow all the action over on the Community Care Twitter feed.