How to move away from frontline social work, but still use your skills

Are you suffering from burnout or starting to think frontline social work isn't for you? Don't despair: many alternative job roles make good use of the skills and knowledge gained from social work training, finds Mat Little.

Social work lecturer

What’s involved: Teaching students through lectures and tutorials, acting as a personal tutor, going on placement visits and running study units. Senior lecturers will run and design courses. All academic staff will undertake research, publish papers and attend conferences.

What’s an average day like? It varies and will encompass one or more of the above tasks.

Additional training/experience required: At least a master’s qualification. Many universities require a PhD for a senior lecturing position.

Average starting salary: £38,000 for red brick universities, £31,000 for post-1992 (converted polytechnics) universities.

Hours: Officially about 37 hours, but in practice the hours are usually much longer and can spill into weekends.

Opportunities for career progression: Lecturers can progress to the principal lecturer grade or concentrate on research and become a reader.

Time with service users: A lot of interaction with students, both face-to-face and via email. Some time may be spent with service users if involved in the design, running and/or assessment of the course.

Pros and cons: “Seeing students grow and flourish and sending out a new generation of workers into the career I have enjoyed and value is very fulfilling,” says Louise Grant, senior lecturer in social work at the University of Bedfordshire. “But it’s hard work, even harder than social work management.”

What to do if you’re interested: Jobs at specific universities are advertised on Community Care Jobs and can be found through Google and the universities’ websites. Being published in an academic social work journal would help you to secure a position, as would several years of social work experience.

Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspector

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What’s involved: CQC inspectors visit care services such as NHS hospitals, private hospitals, care homes, dentists or learning disability services to check they come up to government standards and users are satisfied with their treatment. They enforce changes if services do not comply.

What an average day like? Inspectors might visit a location, talk to service users or observe staff and services. On other days, they will write reports at home, attend team meetings, plan inspections or write warning or enforcement notices if services don’t comply with standards.

Additional training/experience required: No specific qualifications are required, but sector experience is considered an advantage.

Average starting salary: £36,600

Hours: Nine to five, but inspectors can work flexibly.

Opportunities for career progression: Inspectors can become compliance managers, overseeing a team of inspectors in a local area.

Time with service users: Frequent during inspections, but not at other times. An inspection of a care home might take five hours; two of those would be spent with residents.

Pros and cons: “What I really like about the job is that we can improve services for people,” says Liz Palmer, a CQC inspector in the Portsmouth team. On the downside, Palmer says working at home a lot can be isolating. Many inspectors are former social workers and Palmer describes it as a good match: “Social workers might find there is not as much contact with service users as they are used to, but we have got different powers that allow us to make changes for people.”

What to do if you’re interested: Visit the CQC’s jobs section.

Probation officer

What’s involved: Probation officers, also known as offender managers, supervise and rehabilitate offenders, including those “on licence” in the community, those serving non-custodial sentences and those in prison. They do risk assessments, write reports for the courts and parole boards and refer offenders to other agencies

What’s an average day like? “Unpredictable,” says Nick Paul, a probation officer in Newham, east London. Officers have a caseload of 50 people on average and some may be required to appear in court without much notice or suddenly be made homeless. Probation officers have to deal with these emergencies, as well as writing reports.

Additional training/experience required: A work-based graduate diploma in community justice and a vocational diploma in probation practice, level 5.

Average starting salary: £28,468 to £35,727

Hours: Officially 37.5 a week, but can be up to 48.

Opportunities for career progression: Specialist roles in prison or the courts or management positions in Probation Trusts (in England and Wales).

Time with service users: A lot. “That’s what we should be about,” says Paul. However, time with offenders can be restricted by risk assessments, report-writing and liaising with other agencies.

Pros and cons: “You actually get to work with people,” says Paul. “That’s what most probation officers came into the job to do.” He says the downside is the amount of bureaucracy. Large swathes of the probation service – the “low” and “medium” risk cases – are also about to be outsourced.

What to do if you’re interested:  The 35 Probation Trusts in England and Wales list career opportunities.

Cafcass guardian

What’s involved: Cafcass guardians, also known as family court advisers, make sure the voice of the child is heard if children are involved in court proceedings, often giving evidence in court. They also provide information to the child about what is happening in court. Cafcass guardians work in public or private law, or a mixture of the two.

What’s an average day like? It varies. Guardians may be in court, visiting children or writing reports at home.

Additional training/experience required: Three years’ post-qualifying experience in frontline children’s social work.

Average starting salary: £36,154 to £40,316

Hours: Officially 37.5 a week, but in reality more.

Opportunities for career progression: Guardians can become “enhanced practitioners” by developing their expertise in particular fields. They can also move into management roles.

Time with service users: “I’ve been very free to visit children and to gauge how often I have those visits,” says Jon Shone, a Cafcass guardian working in Sussex (pictured). He tends to have more interaction with children if they are older.

Pros and cons: “The job gives me an opportunity to ensure the child absolutely remains the primary focus of all professional thinking,” says Shone. “Sometimes you can’t do that as a local authority social worker.” However, Shone adds that being a guardian involves a lot of lone working, which can take some getting used to.

What to do if you’re interested: Visit the Cafcass jobs section or email

Social care manager

What’s involved: Registered social care managers run residential care homes or manage outreach teams for clients in the community.

What’s an average day like? Care managers have numerous responsibilities. They see clients, write support and risk management plans and ensure services are CQC compliant. They also manage staff and may be responsible for the organisation’s finances and payroll. “No two days are the same. It can be challenging in a positive way,” says Mary Love, manager of Swanborough Services, an outreach service for people with acquired brain injuries in West Sussex.

Additional training/experience required: NVQ level 4 in leadership and management for care services or a master’s degree in healthcare management.

Average starting salary: £26,000

Hours: Anything from the standard 37.5 to 60 hours a week.

Opportunities for career progression: Regional or national management positions with healthcare providers, freelance consultancy or CQC inspector.

Time with service users: Seeing clients regularly is invariably a requirement of the job.

Pros and cons: “It’s very rewarding,” says Love. “You see people improve and how to treat them as individuals.” On the downside is the amount of paperwork: “There are lots of rules and guidelines you have to adhere to.”

What to do if you’re interested: Love advises talking to providers, private companies or local authorities directly. “I think we do need more social workers as care managers, because so much legislation is drummed into them during their studies and they can use those skills,” she says.

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