Q: I am a social work undergraduate and qualify in June 2009. I will be 57 then and my only practical experience is as a volunteer before the degree course and two 100-day social work placements during it. Can I get a job as a social worker at my age with my limited practical experience? And is there
anything during the remainder of my social work degree course I can do to improve my job opportunities?
A: I admire your enterprise in undertaking professional training at 57. Employment law prohibits all discrimination on the grounds of age so you should not fear on that score. However, your primary concern is lack of experience.
I am sure you have had life experiences alongside your volunteering which enabled you to gain a place on your social work course in the first place. You should ensure that you are prepared to talk about these experiences to evidence your skills and competence in any job applications you make. You could also ask your university to help you prepare your CV and arrange interview coaching to practise presenting your experience in the fullest way.
Your placements will provide excellent evidence of work experience as they will have been assessed and will be based on current best practice which employers will value. If you have done any action research during your course, that will also be useful.
I would not advise you to undertake additional work at this stage as I think you need to concentrate on your studies, particularly if you are completing written assignments. If, however, you do have time after finishing your course or while trying to land a job, doing some more voluntary work in social care would of course be useful.
Getting information about opportunities can be difficult. Don’t forget that social work takes place in the NHS and public health services, housing, justice and education as well as a huge range of community settings, so keep your search broad.
There are alternative opportunities to consider, such as becoming a social work assistant or getting involved in a home caring or personal assistant role that might also offer you a stepping stone.
At entry level, employers are not necessarily looking for years of experience but a capacity to learn and to transfer knowledge and skills into the job and workplace.
Andrea Rowe is chief executive of Skills for Care. She is answering your questions in a personal capacity.
A: Most students, regardless of age are anxious at this period in their training and voice the same concerns as yourself about “being fit to practice”. But, believe me, you would not have progressed this far if there were any doubts about your capabilities to date.
At the risk of sounding ageist, there is no substitute for the wealth of life experience you can draw upon. Add the motivation to embark on a degree course, and I would say the future looks good.
Patricia Curran, independent social worker/practice assessor
A: You need to revise your attitude and start viewing your experiences in a positive light. I am a newly qualified social worker and have recently been offered my first position. I found employers to be understanding towards inexperienced social workers. Taking up voluntary/paid part time work as a student may give you confidence in discussing examples of your competencies at interview.
Name and address withheld
20 March question
Q: I’m beginning to feel a bit stale. I’ve got loads of experience and people think I’m good, but I know I’m losing some of my spark and sometimes work does not seem so satisfying, although I still think what I do is valuable and important. Is this bound to happen or can I do something about it? We will answer this question in the 20 March issue of Community Care. We want to publish your advice too: please send it to Natalie Valios by Monday 10 March.
Do you have your own career dilemma? Send your comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org