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‘Newly qualified social workers may not be the easiest choice, but we have fresh eyes and energy’

As her first year or so as a care manager draws to a close, Zoë Betts reflects on what it was like being a newly qualified social worker (NQSW). And don’t let the photo fool you; it wasn’t all tears…


As I am on the cusp of starting my second position post qualifying, I find myself recalling this time over a year ago, when I was job hunting, frustrated and eagerly awaiting my first position – waving my degree (passed with distinction) above my head. A whole year has flown by now, which means, so too has my status of NQSW and my treasured year of protected study. It has left me wondering what this now means for me and my career. 

I left a great job to go into social work, so I have always felt a responsibility to myself to work hard so that my gamble pays off. And it has, in fact, entirely surpassed my expectations. I have spent the past 14 and a half months working in a complex care team as a care manager. It hasn’t been easy; half way through I caved under the strain and learned lesson number one: simplify things, break down your options, evaluate and give yourself clarity, then write a list (this is my failsafe). 

Social work can be overwhelming at first. I have had safeguarding cases that left me perplexed and daunted. It takes time to understand which resources are available and how to access them, to know the boundaries of people’s roles, where responsibility lies and ultimately to know the best options to consider and how to reduce the risks that are faced. Some days I felt my learning did not escalate at the rate I had expected it and that was frustrating. But I was taught early on that the skill is understanding what you can do and coming up with a plan.

The other challenge is the responsibility and the emotional toll it can take. We meet clients and service users and join their world for a moment; you know their face, you sit in their lounge, you drink their tea, you hear their voice and you grab the tissues when the conversations get tough. You become enveloped in their world and the strain of what some people go through can be a huge burden. I don’t agree with emotionally removing yourself, as inner strength coupled with compassion is what enables people do this job well. But on what often feels an uphill struggle, how do we see the light? Where is the relief, especially so early in your career? Where is the support? 

My first team recruited me because I was newly qualified. I was told fresh eyes, attitudes and energy were perfect attributes to possess; skills, continued learning, knowledge and time were things they could invest in me. And invest they did. I had a reduced caseload for nine months, but better than this – I had support. My manager agreed to keep my supervision at fortnightly for an entire eight months. The gain was always a long term one and he knew that. Was I lucky or should this be accessible to all NQSWs? You might think, ‘in an ideal world if time was no issue,’ but I disagree. Time is always a constraint, but it is not barrier.

My hope for graduates is that you are given the opportunity to take part in the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), introduced this academic year in England), that it remains effective and sustainable and it protects you enough to ensure that, above all else, you enjoy this valuable postgraduate year. There is an enormous amount of learning to do. Your skills, practice and understanding will develop quickly and, as you relax in to the role, it will start to feeel more comfortable.

My request of employers is that you employ an NQSW. They may not be the easiest of employees to take on, as they need considerable time invested in their support and development, but take the gamble and invest that time. It is short-term pain for long-term gain; not just for your own organisation, but for social work as a whole. 

In April, I will run another (my second) event bringing together industry experts and frontline social workers from across our profession to London to network with students and NQSWs in order to inspire and enthuse those about to take the huge leap in to a profession which needs to hang on to a new generation of truly great and motivated workers. If you would like to attend the event, Competence and Confidence, in London on 10 April, email Zoë

Photo credit: Action Press/Rex Features

Kirsty McGregor

About Kirsty McGregor

Kirsty McGregor is Community Care's workforce editor. She reports daily on social workers' pay and conditions, education, training, career progression, registration and fitness to practise. This includes issues affecting newly qualified social workers across the UK and the recent development of the assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) in England. She is also responsible for producing job hunting and career progression advice.

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