‘I graduated from a social work master’s with distinction- now I’m a cleaner’

Newly qualified social worker Vita La Porta explains the frustrations of getting on the job ladder

Photo: Rudolf Vicek/ flickr

By Vita La Porta

When I qualified from my master’s degree in social work with distinction last November, I would never have predicted that, after two years’ hard study, I would be cleaning in a residential children’s home.

I have always been a hands-on type of person, but I feel my skills and qualifications are not being put to good use. I feel frustrated as I know that I am more than capable of being a good social worker –doing a job I really love, and supporting children and families in crisis –particularly when I hear they’re in such short supply.

In demand

Prior to starting the course, I heard that social workers were leaving the profession and good social workers were in demand. I wanted to work with children and was told that my experience would be sought after once I qualified. I thought the world of social work would welcome me with open arms. What a shock to the system the reality had turned out to be.

I embarked on the job application process with a good degree, outstanding references, experience as a domestic abuse advocate, extensive equality work and work with adults and children with learning disabilities, as well as 100 days’ statutory placement in a Children In Need team. I thought I would sail into a job.

No investment

But all local authorities want are social workers with at least a year’s post qualifying experience. They want a “here’s your laptop and cases- get on with it” type of social worker, not someone who might need some investment. What hope do I have? I am a quick and enthusiastic learner and committed to working with children and families, which I’ve backed up with relevant experience. All I need is a chance, but when I’m turned down because of a lack of post-qualifying experience it makes me question whether training as a social worker was the right thing to do.

A fighting chance

I believe that the government should make it a duty for all local authorities to employ at least a small percentage of newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) throughout children’s services, rather than recruiting on mass once a year. I believe that with every permanent social worker recruited, local authorities should be made to hire a NQSW, just to give us a fighting chance to get on the ladder. Without this type of commitment NQSWs like me will be left wasting our talent.

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44 Responses to ‘I graduated from a social work master’s with distinction- now I’m a cleaner’

  1. Joe Godden January 21, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    Lots of sympathy for Vita, in BASW we have been supporting Nqsw’s like Vita for the last three years by providing one to one mentoring from great volunteer mentors. We have had some real successes in getting people into jobs. Joe Godden Professional Officer j.godden@basw.co.uk

  2. Fiona Kingston January 21, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    I have huge sympathy with Vita having only qualified myself 3 years ago. I would like a change of direction into MASH or CP but no one is interested in investing some time to induct me into these areas. This short-termism only leads to more shortages of experienced staff and soon, there will be no one to replace those that are burned out by the front line work. This will lead to the privatisation of child protection and other services currently exclusive to Local Authorities as they fail to safeguard the children for whom they are responsible. There is a bigger picture out there and no one appears to be taking an overview for the longer term.

  3. Clare January 21, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    Central Bedfordshire Council are actively recruiting newly qualifieds for their new Academy. You can apply now.

  4. Emma Burton January 21, 2015 at 12:25 pm #

    I have sympathy for you, i am also a qualified social worker, and i graduated in 2013 and im finding it hard to find a job within adult social care, ive had plenty of interviews but they wanted me to have more experience, i wouldnt mind but i have worked last 10 years in residential care and im now currently in day services

  5. Sean Bell January 21, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    Weare always happy to recruit NQSWs in Edinburgh. Check our website http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/info/20061/work_for_us/562/working_in_childrens_services or email me for information sean.bell@edinburgh.gov.uk

  6. Gerald January 21, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    Try the Private Care Sector Care Homes,they might appreciate your enthusiasm

  7. Dot Smith January 21, 2015 at 1:33 pm #

    Sheffield City Council Children and Families service advertised for social workers in November. We have just appointed 17 Newly qualified social workers from that recruitment campaign. We advertise on a quarterly basis and would be happy to receive an application from you.

  8. Deb January 21, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    As a qualified social worker myself, I think the problem lies with Councils reducing their staff so much that there is no available time for colleagues, supervisors and Managers to invest in supporting newly qualified staff with very little or no experience. Mentoring and coaching programmes and staff resources are removed from Councils. As well as not being able to make time, my expereince has been that without good support systems in place and time to do this, Managers do not want to bring staff in, only to watch them fail in their first role.

  9. Ellie Smith January 21, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    Same here. I graduated in 2012 with distinction, completed a master’s degree in children’s studies and now I am a waitress. Happy days.

  10. Berni January 21, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    Yes , i have had the same experience. What a waste of talent and tax payers money. I am not really sure what else i can add. Many councils as we know have been decimated year on year since the coalition has been in place and many very experienced workers are leaving the profession in droves. I am not really sure how social care is functioning as we seem to be at a critical point. If you can , work voluntarily for some one or some thing you love and enjoy or find rewarding. Keep your paid work and wait for your chance. We really should form type of forum and lobby for change.

    1) All final year students should be able to specialize.
    2) Students should be partnered with organisations which are appropriate for placement and can offer positive and valued support.
    3) All nqsw should be funded after university for six months in a partnered agency at a bursary equivalent .
    4) NQSW should be evaluated on that performance and certified by the HCPC as work ready.

    Failing this , we should stop offering BAs and MA s for social work and let the councils carry on with their internal training offer ,oh and the front line fast track . At least this would not result in many people training and passing their course but not being able to get a job.

    Lets hope for a change.

    Yours a fellow NQSW

  11. Gene January 21, 2015 at 3:52 pm #

    I disagree completey with this article. There are jobs out there for NQSW’s. Maybe you need to seek some support with your application and interviewing techniques. I graduated in 2013 and got 4 job offers within a short space of time following graduation.
    In adults budgets are strained and there are few jobs, but many children’s teams are regularly recruiting across the country.

  12. Rachel January 21, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

    I qualified five years ago and experienced similar problems, the only way I got a job was through applying for forty-five posts all over the country, only getting two interviews (for the same council) and then having to move away from home for the job. Even a lot of agencies ask for a minimum of six months post-qualifying experience but I did find that some do advertise particularly for newly qualified workers which of course start on a lower pay. All I can say is stick with it, be prepared to move away if needed, and apply for as many jobs as you can! good luck, it will all be worth it in the end 🙂

  13. Louise January 21, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

    I too am a NQSW, qualifying last summer with a 2:1 BA. I have found myself in a similar predicament. I did two 100 day placements (2nd and 3rd year) in Adult Mental health services. Previously I worked as a Teaching Assistant in a local primary school and I am a Cub Scout leader. Plenty of interviews, NQSW posts I have applied for I’ve been told that they have no doubt that I can do the job and do it well but that I did not talk enough graduate terminology in interview and the other posts I’ve been shadowed by those who can hit the ground running due to years of experience. Children’s services say they won’t touch me as I have had no statutory children’s experience.

    I am currently working as a Tenancy Services Assistant. Sometimes it feels like those four years ( I did Access prior to the degree) of training and hard work were all for nothing. It is so disheartening to be continually rejected. People often ask “if you’re qualified why are you doing this?”

  14. Kathryn January 21, 2015 at 5:35 pm #

    I had the same problem when I qualified in 2011… I took a job as a support worker for a mental health charity. I finally managed to get my foot on the ladder by taking a chance and giving up my full time post for a bank worker post with my local authority… Thankfully it worked out for me and I have been with the same team for over a year now and I’m coming to the end of my ASYE. I have a permanent post now (though only part time with the rest of my hours made up with bank hours) it was hard.
    LAs are struggling with funding cuts and as a result don’t have time or resources to invest in NQSWs… This is very shortsighted of the government.
    I hope the tide will turn soon because this is a very sad state of affairs.

  15. Pamela Chambers January 21, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

    I qualified in 2010 and have also found finding work very difficult within the social work sector. I have experience with children and older people in a range of settings. It is very disappointing that people are still finding it difficult to get a job in the profession.

    I was out of work so I did some voluntary work in a previous placement for two days a week. I applied for several social work jobs with no success so I just looked at other social care work like support work.

    In 2012 I got a job as a support worker with older people hoping to progress and apply again for social work jobs. My employer put me on the Assisted and Supported Year of Employment which I passed last year.

    I now am confident again at getting a social work job so watch this space.

    Please don’t give up because one day you will get the break you deserve.

  16. Louise January 21, 2015 at 5:47 pm #

    I too am a NQSW and have found myself in a similar predicament. I graduated in July 2014 with a 2:1 BA Hons. I complete two years (2nd and 3rd year) 100 day placements in Adult Mental Health Services. Prior to commencing my training I was a volunteer teaching assistant in a local primary school (with an NVQ2 in Supporting Teaching and Learning) and am still a Cub Scout leader. Similarly to others who have commented I’ve had a fair amount of interviews. The NQSW posts I have been told that they believe I can do the job and do it well but have not talked enough graduate terminology in interview and the other posts I have been overshadowed by those who can hit the ground running due to years of experience. Children’s services have said that they won’t touch me due to having no children’s statutory experience and agencies won’t touch you until you have post qualifying experience. It’s a vicious circle and the continuing stream of rejections can become very disheartening. Sometimes it feels as if those four years (I did an Access to Social Work Diploma before commencing the degree) were a waste.

    I am currently working as a Tenancy Services Assistant. I am often asked ” if you’re qualified why are you doing this?”

  17. ec January 21, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

    Consider working in remote locations or with native populations. I know there are always MSW vacancies in Canada’s north. They are chronic staff shortages. Come and get 2-3 years experience and then work on transferring out to a southern location, if you like. Beats starving and having the resume gap.


  18. josie nash January 21, 2015 at 7:21 pm #

    I have worked in variety of setting s mainly mental health .I have 1 years experience and more than capable of doing the job of social worker. No opportunity to take a degree
    I am considering leaving now
    So frustrating not being able to work and use my skills and experience.

  19. Leanne January 21, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

    I qualified in the summer of 2014, again I have secured interviews however it is about experience and I was unfortunate not to get a statutory placement whilst completing my post grad. However I have secured work as a family support worker in the third sector. Although the pay isn’t great I am working with children and families and increasing my experience. Keep trying your perserverence will pay off. It is sad that people who are passionate in working with families who are need are unable to secure their first post.

  20. Gidon from Caritas Recruitment January 21, 2015 at 9:22 pm #

    It is so disappointing to hear that Vita has had such a negative experience.

    Local Authorities are in a very difficult situation, as they need experienced Social Workers to help them cope with high case loads. However, one of the reasons there is such a shortage of these Social Workers today, is the underinvestment in the training of NQSWs over the past few years – so fewer experienced QSWs have emerged 3 or 4 years on.

    We need to break this cycle or there will always be a shortage of experienced Social Workers

  21. Phillippa January 21, 2015 at 9:34 pm #

    So sorry to read the comments about looking for work. I am a SW with 20 years and sadly I want to leave, as the work load is now so dangerous that one could lose their registration. It is no longer the field I went into. The irony is that they want people with experience, one is fire fighting now time for real SW, its all targets, targets.

    I do wish all you the best with your continued searches.

    • Russell January 22, 2015 at 9:46 pm #

      It makes me so very sad to hear of a social worker leaving the profession. I work at Essex and they’ve increased QSW posts over the last 5 years and caseloads average at 14 , it gives you time to do the job you became a SW to do!

  22. Wayne January 21, 2015 at 10:09 pm #

    MSW with merit 2012, 2 statutory placements (both merit), 10 years prior experience frontline working with disadvantaged groups. No job in Social Work. Why did the NHS pay all that money to train me? Thanks, I enjoyed the course, but why bother? I am clearly surplus to requirements. I guess it’s the third sector and £8 per hour for the foreseeable future, where I shall apply Bronfenbrenner, Erikson, Bowlby et al in splendid isolation. In the words of Yosser Hughes ‘I can do that. Gizza job”.

  23. Susan C January 21, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    I graduated in September last year and have applied for over 100 jobs in social work and social care. I have had a few interviews (non statutory social work posts) I have found that students that had statutory placements landed statutory posts. Everywhere wants 2 years post qualifying experience. How are we expected to gain this experience if very little allow us to show them what we are capable of. I even asked my local and surrounding councils if I could volunteer as a qualified social worker so that I could gain some statutory experience, but everywhere has said no! I feel like I have wasted my time, energy and money……so disheartened!

  24. chokwadi January 21, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

    After a year in child protection you will wish you had stayed in your current job.

  25. Susan Evans January 21, 2015 at 11:30 pm #

    You need to think outside the box. Social work is a title…use the skills in a creative way . try the challenge network programme and work as a support worker with young people with additional needs or youth mentor on the programme for 12 young people. You have the skills a day don’t need to use them in an office setting. Get out there into the community and link up with voluntary groups a day charities. Good luck!!!

  26. CK January 22, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    I had a similar problem. It took me several months to find a qualified social work role, and that was in no small part due to the dedication and commitment of a particular recruitment consultant. I was told that I lacked experience, despite five years as a community mental health worker with care coordination responsibilities. I also undertook a placement a Cafcass, yet when applying for roles on children’s and families’ teams was told I lacked ‘statutory experience’.

    One of the issues is risk aversion on the part of recruiting managers. It’s not ‘statutory experience’ they’re looking for, really. What they want is NQSWs who have experience of filling out the various forms in the way they want them filled out. Also, there appears to be a thick (no pun intended) streak of anti-intellectualism in many managers, who likely qualified in an era when the requirement was for a diploma (or no qualification at all!). Someone with a distinction at Master’s level could be seen as a threat. I stress that not all managers are like this and there are many fine teams out there with great leaders who will see the value in a diverse array of experience and expertise levels.
    I took a job in mental health advocacy which was great way to use my skills, knowledge and experience and also gave me insights into another aspect of the support available to people. I also registered with an agency (the only one who would take me on as NQSW). After about seven months of persistence, frustration and, at times, bitter disappointment (there’s only so many times you can take positively that you’d given a fantastic interview but been “pipped to the post by someone with more experience”). Eventually my CV came across the desk of manager who saw the value of my ‘non-statutory’ experience and took my on as a temp agency worker. From there I was recruited to a fixed term post, doing some very interesting work outside of the ‘normal’ care/case management models.

    Try not to lose heart. Statutory placements are useful only in securing that first job more quickly. What is more important is how you integrate your values, knowledge, skills and experience into a coherent practice model which is your own but which builds on the bedrock of shared values and best practice. I’m glad I never got any of those other jobs I went for. Now I work in a team and organisation that values me for my unique contribution, not because I fit into some model of the pre-moulded and still malleable social worker.

    • Julie Hanlon January 22, 2015 at 11:54 am #

      Shocking attitude..ck..totally unacceptable..

      • CK January 22, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

        I presume/hope that’s sarcasm?

  27. Sarah January 22, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    I find it sad that you see yourself as a cleaner. The most important people in a childs life when they live in residential care are the professional care staff. You make the difference and help shape their future, teach them the fundamental skills to grow and develop. Your role is primary for their healing journey so if you feel you are too good to provide care, support and the fundamental developmental blocks to help their healing journey, then maybe you do need to find another job. I started out as a residential care worker for five years, moved to a case manager, then did early intervention family work, and now learning to provide trauma informed therapy to the very children you are ‘cleaning’ for. If you are open to it, this role will provide you more lerning then you could ever imagine, fill you with warmth that the children and young people trust you enough to be part of their world. I have always said the. I have always sai the most experienced staff need to be those caring for our most vulnerable. You are not a cleaner, you are a healer

    • Tina January 23, 2015 at 9:27 am #

      I agree with all this. As most jobs, you have to start at the shop floor and work your way up. Understanding all aspects of a job and being flexible is the key.

  28. Azuka Agbai January 22, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    Try applying for roles as a Social Work assistant. This will get you through the door of the statutory sector and once through you can negotiate joining the programme for NQSW. From this role, once you’ve proved yourself you should be able to get a job in a qualified role.

    This has worked for many SWs I know.

  29. Jessica January 22, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    Dorset frequently has vacancies in children and families posts and will often accept NQSWs and support them. I qualified June 2012 with a masters no didn’t have a standard statutory placement, I applied for 14 jobs, had four interviews and ended up commuting an hour each way for two years. I now have a job in my home town. You may need to be flexible, and apply to areas where they don’t have a university too near. I know it seems daunting, but your education really begins when you start the job and so teams need a diverse range of experience in their teams so hence if they want experienced workers its because the work is complex to need an experienced worker.

  30. Jessica January 22, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    How far are you willing to commute? I qualified 2012, applied for 14 jobs, had four interviews, finally got a job an hour’s commute from home, stayed there two years and now work in my home town. Dorset, where I worked, often has vacancies for social workers in children and families, and will often take NQSWs (there are 5 jobs on the website now!). I didn’t have a placement with a statutory team. Look for jobs in towns that don’t have a university nearby, and be willing to travel.

  31. Linda Pritchard January 22, 2015 at 1:12 pm #

    Think long term, I qualified 20 years ago and looked for permanent part -time social work post locally, as I was a single parent and wanted to work near where we lived. After one interview (which I was very nervous about anyway) I asked for feedback and was told that I would not have been offered a job if I was the only applicant, it really affected my confidence. To improve my confidence and for an income, I worked in a pub and as a cleaner there as it was the same pay. I then job shared a community research project for 12 months before getting a job as an Education Welfare Officer as their only qualified Social Worker. After 4 years of working closely with Social Services, I got my first Social Work post near home which was great in many ways but I would meet clients when out socially and was not treated as a newly qualified social worker but given complex long term cases as well as child protection work, no opportunity to practice family support which was what I naively thought I would be doing.

    • Lewis L. January 22, 2015 at 7:04 pm #

      It’s both disheartening and encouraging at the same time reading people’s experiences whilst looking for nq social work posts. I qualified in 2013 and didn’t start job searching straight after graduation preferring to take time out for personal reasons. I have years of experience bringing up children and lots of experience working as an unqualified Care Manager for adults with learning disabilities and both my placements were in statutory children and YP teams. I have applied for about 10 posts in my local authority and had 6 interviews without success. I have tried numerous agency posts and have come to the conclusion it’s no point as they are either all asking for post qualifying experience or they don’t give feedback. I will keep searching whilst I keep myself occupied saving the country lots of money volunteering for Sure Start, heaven knows the Children Centres need it. Good Luck to all on the nqsw job hunt 🙂

  32. Annie January 22, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

    There are plenty of local authorities who are recuiting NQSW’s and offer the ASYE programme across Adult and Children’s Social care so I am not sure where it is you have been looking. I work in the South/ South West and meet with colleagues regionally – we all recruit NQSW’s. I am in a small authority and have recruited over 20 NQSW’s in Children’s Social Care alone. A bigger neigbouring authority have had over 50 NQSW’s registered across both services. Yes we want experienced workers but we are all prepared to invest in NQSW’s too. Ideally all students should have had 2 or 3 years of work experience prior to going on a qualifying course but the main things we look for though is ability to think clearly, be organised, a willingness to learn and reflect, emotional resilience, key areas of knowledge and some experience of working with children, young people and families.
    If you are working in a residential unit as a care worker then use this opportunity to develop your skills in direct work with children.
    You may also need to look further afield and be prepared to move if you can.

  33. Sue January 22, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    Sorry you have been having trouble finding a NQSW role. I graduated in 2014 – our cohort fully expected to have months/years of trouble securing jobs but surprisingly quite a lot of our cohort have been offered NQSW jobs. However most (but not all) have had statutory placement experience. LAs in the Midlands have been recruiting a lot in the last few months – the wmjobs website has current vacancies considering NQSW. Perhaps it is a sign that things are starting to improve? I think it is in this area. Don’t be disheartened, keep going!

  34. Tina January 23, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    Hi, I’m not a s/w, i’m a foster carer. Whilst on a break for a year i worked with family aide. Going into peoples homes with vunerable children and teaching parenting skills and anything else that could help the family, keep the children from going into care in the first place and advising. I feel like there should be more preventative measures like this for families and newly qualified social workers could do this and learn a lot from it. Capturing a family before total breakdown is very rewarding. Working with the families is an education in itself. Families don’t want to see their kids going into care and if they can be helped with this they want to be able to access it.
    Just a thought. I did enjoy the work but it made me want to go back to being a foster carer as well but also gave me an insight as to how children end up in care in some situations.

  35. Charmaine January 23, 2015 at 9:59 am #


    please do not feel disheartened, there is a context to your experience, which is the performance requirements of the LA, increased complexity of work alongside reduced resources. Most LAs now arw striving to become inspection ready and this is impacting on the candidates being considered appointable.

    I would be happy to have a conversation with you to explore if in some way I could assist your situation.

    My email address can be shared with you to open up this dialogue.

  36. Elizabeth Ogbe January 23, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

    Hi Vita, I had a similar experience but still perceived on. It took me two years of rent less job applications before I got my job and it was worth it. The same commitment and drive you used when studying use it now, until you get the result you want. It is disheartening so I had to change my approach. My lack of experience let me down (even though I had completed two placements) so I did voluntary in the field I wanted to work in. That helped to open doors for me. Good luck!

  37. Yvonne Bon if as January 23, 2015 at 10:36 pm #

    There’s unfortunately a streak of entitlement through some of these stories, managers are anti intellectual, nqsw’s expecting to be treared like a special snowflake. I am an old timer who has been temping in adult care the last two years. I expected to have difficulty competing with younger people with masters degrees, but many of the younger locums I’ve come across are slow, unproductive, poor administrators and generally have a high opinion of themselves whilst being needy, passive and somewhat pompous. Maybe it’s because you used to need mature life experience before training, wheras now people seem to go into uni at 18, big mistake.

    Unfortunately the social work academic establishment still seems to encourage unrealistic expectations of the real job which in adult care anyway is 60% administration, 20% clinical stuff picked up along the way from health professiinals. You are a bureaucrat administering government policy, not some kind of independent therapist. If you are seeking to change society you need to go into politics, not work for the council.

    • CK January 27, 2015 at 10:29 am #

      I think if someone studies and trains for 2-3 years to achieve a professional/vocational qualification, they’re entitled to feel disappointed and frustrated if they have prolonged difficulty in securing a role in their chosen profession.

      Re my comment about anti-intellectualism in recruiting managers: this was based on anecdotal evidence but I recognise it may have come across as a gross and unwarranted generalisation. I apologise for any offence caused. To clarify, I’m not saying that a Master’s entitled one to a social work role straight out of university but I am saying that being academic (if ‘academic’ means being theory-, evidence- and research-informed) and having the necessary values, skills, personal qualities, and professional and life experience are not mutually exclusive, and that all those things together should be valued at least as much as statutory placements, the focus on which does appear to be at odds with social work’s agenda of promoting diversity, promoting creativity and challenging oppression.

      Yes, we are effectively socially-aware bureaucrats. But do we have to settle for that?

  38. Tess January 24, 2015 at 8:34 am #

    I am a Team Manager in a front line team in Hampshire. To say all local authorities are not recruiting NQSWs is inaccurate. I have 2 NQSWs who have just finished their ASYE year. I have a further 2 NQSWs who will complete their ASYE year in August 2015 and have a new NQSW starting in April 2015. Whilst I have to stagger NQSWs just to ensure we can continue to run a safe service (NQSWs cannot do s47, care proceedings or hold CP cases) they are very much welcomed and protected.