A university has been awarded funding to use the proposed social work apprenticeship scheme to attract a more diverse range of people into the profession.
The Open University announced last week that it had been given funding from the Higher Education Funding Council in England (HEFCE) to work with employers to create a social work workforce that better reflects local communities and service users.
The funding, from the Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund, will support the university and employers to explore how the degree apprenticeship in social work – announced earlier this year – could increase access to social work training from groups currently under-represented both in higher education and in the social work profession, such as people with disabilities and those from minority ethnic groups.
As part of the funding, the university will also develop accessible learning resources for candidates for social work training, and support apprentices throughout qualification. For the first phase of the project, the university is calling on employers to complete a survey on the diversity of their workforce. The funding recognised that the apprenticeship scheme was not signed off yet, and the university is beginning work to plan for sign off so it can support the increase of apprentices.
Jenny Simpson, head of social work (England) at the Open University, said: “The social work profession needs to – and must – better reflect users of services.
“There are countless capable and talented people from many diverse backgrounds – including people with disabilities as well as people of different ages and from under-represented ethnic groups – who have the potential to become good social workers but either lack the confidence in themselves or have simply never given social work or university a second thought.
“Working with employers we aim to reach out too many more people from different groups in society to consider social work as a career – and to support them in applying for places as degree apprenticeships.”
The apprenticeship standard for social workers was submitted to the Institute for Apprenticeships and approved, subject to certain changes.
The proposed degree apprenticeship will be a work-based route to qualification for social workers, and is expected to take 36 months. The trainees would be paid from day one and receive a mixture of on and off-the-job training. After an end of apprenticeship assessment, trainees would gain a university degree.
The apprenticeship proposals are being led by a ‘trailblazer group’ of around 30 employers and 30 universities, supported by Skills for Care. The government is expected to decide on whether the scheme can progress further in December.
Mary Kellett, executive dean of the Open University’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies and a former children’s social worker, encouraged councils to consider the potential of the new apprenticeship scheme.
“The incentive of drawing on the apprenticeship levy to support the development of social workers and the additional boost of HEFCE funding to share good practice around recruitment are very welcome indeed.”