Family support social worker Courtney Burke tells Community Care why he didn’t let a lack of “relevant” experience deter him from getting into the profession.
I remember getting into telesales almost by accident; there were a lot of jobs going and I thought I would give it a try. They gave me some basic sales training and taught me how to capture our customers’ interest when cold calling. But eventually I decided to try and get back into education; I looked at law and politics, but it was social work that encompassed everything I was interested in, such as sociology, law and social policy. My auntie used to be a social worker and many of my other family members work with people, in nursing or education, so I knew a bit about it.
At the time I wasn’t sure how the skills I’d learned in telesales would help. When I got to college to do the access course I needed before getting onto the degree, I did find I was a bit out of my depth. But I’m quite a determined person, not usually put off when people tell me I can’t do something.
I was lucky that the people interviewing me for the access course, and later the degree, saw in me some of the key qualities needed to be a social worker. Self-reflection was key. I had to sit down and be honest about what I’m good at or not so good at – and I had to learn not to be offended when other people gave me feedback.
Although my knowledge of social care wasn’t as good as others’, I could demonstrate from my telesales experience that I could work with people and in teams. I have also been fortunate enough to live in a lot of different cities and meet different people, so I was able to show I could relate to people from a variety of backgrounds.
The degree was yet another shift. All but one of the universities I applied to said no straight away, but they didn’t say why. One invited me to interview though and, when I walked in, they remembered me from the initial screening – probably because I was wearing a suit.
I wouldn’t say it was easy to find a job, but I was tactical about it. I made sure to apply for my current position [in Peterborough council's family support service] quite early on, because I knew when I qualified there would be thousands of people across the UK competing for jobs. Lots of people I went to uni with still don’t have a social work job. But a lot of them were looking in London; I was prepared to look further afield. I knew there wouldn’t be that many available, compared what we were told at the beginning of the course.
I think we need to be more welcoming to people thinking of going into social work. There seems to be an unwritten expectation that social workers should have had extensive life experiences. This could be a reason why many young students decide to study other subjects. I was the youngest male on both my college and university courses.
I think we need to go into schools and colleges, educating people about social work at a much earlier stage. We tend to focus our recruitment at the college or university stage of education and then only advertise jobs amongst the established social care community. Some of the best social workers don’t come from an academic or social care background, but they have the right skills and qualities. Social work is a great job. It was a big leap for me to go into it from telesales, but I’ve been well supported during my first year and would recommend it to anyone, from any background.
Courtney Burke is a social worker in Peterborough council’s family support service. He has been qualified for just over a year.
Photo by Image Source/Rex Features (posed by models)