Q: I am a social worker in a learning disability team in local authority adults’ services where the council has started a voluntary redundancy programme. Experienced social workers are leaving and being replaced by unqualified staff. I agree with the principles behind personalisation, but I’m worried that my skills are being devalued in this “brave new world”. What can I do to ensure I and my social work skills have a future in my current role?
A: You are not alone in your concerns but you may be thinking, perhaps for the first time, of what your career will turn out to be. You may have this mapped out or, like many, you may have less idea about your future work.
A first step is to reflect on what you want in terms of a career – and you may find it useful to reflect on this with the help of friends or outsiders. What career alternatives have you explored? What would a careers or employment agency think of your experience and qualifications? How mobile are you? Are you willing to work in staff shortage areas such as in children’s services or mental health?
So, a first message is to think, perhaps by looking at other areas of social work. Your experience with learning disability work might be relevant to areas where social work posts are growing – in safeguarding, for instance.
A second alternative is to follow your interests in self-directed support either in local authorities or in the third sector – brokerage perhaps. There are risks in moving out of the local authority, as you know, but it can be invigorating and you may enjoy the creativity, even different pressures. What deals are available from the local authority – particularly around your pension?
You don’t mention whether you are a member of a union or the British Association of Social Workers but seek advice on finance and options around any moves. You may wish to explore becoming an independent social worker, or see what agencies are offering in your area.
If you do remain with your present employer, perhaps now is the time to look at your CV and see in what ways you can widen and develop your skills, in case of further job losses. Again, it is often easier for other people to identify gaps and how you can develop further skills.
Finally, collectively, you and your colleagues could make more explicit why you think your social work skills are cost-effective in contributing to personalisation and related developments.
Jill Manthorpe is director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London and an associate director of the NIHR School for Social Care Research
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