Five retorts for newly qualified social workers told they are ‘too inexperienced’

We know how infuriating it is for social work graduates to be told, at application or even interview stage, that employers would prefer someone who can 'hit the ground running'. So Community Care has come up with five possible retorts.

1. Continually employing short-term agency workers instead of training up NQSWs wastes both time and money, as well as being potentially harmful to service users

While agency social workers are an essential part of a flexible, responsive workforce, filling teams with temporary staff is a false economy. A few years back, Sefton Council estimated that it cost £14,400 more per year to hire an agency social worker. If employers took the time and energy to train up NQSWs, they could save a lot of money in the long term.

More importantly, constant churn in social work teams can have a negative impact on service users. Good social work requires you to build up trusting relationships with the people you are trying to help.  Agency staff might be more experienced, but they won’t necessarily know the local community or have time to build up those relationships. Additionally, strong professional relationships between colleagues breed good conduct. Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, says: “I think there is a real danger of building up a dependency on agency workers, because you never build a strong organisational culture if the workforce is turning over rapidly.”

2. NQSWs can bring fresh energy and enthusiasm to the team

Most NQSWs are excited to become social workers (you would hope), but this can fade over time as heavy caseloads and stress take their toll. Zoe Betts, who graduated from the social work degree two years ago, believes this early enthusiasm is part of what makes NQSWs desirable. Jones agrees: “NQSWs tend to be pretty well fired up with enthusiasm, have demonstrated an ability to learn quickly and have already shown strong commitment to becoming social workers.”

Some employers do see the benefit in hiring NQSWs. After several unsuccessful interviews, Betts got her first job, she was told, largely because of her enthusiasm. Her employer saw it as something to harness and spread across the rest of the workforce. “It is nice for a team to have someone they can teach and guide, it is motivating for other team members,” says Betts.

3. Knowledge remains fresh

As social work theories evolve, so does social work education. Employers can count on NQSWs to be bang up-to-date with recent policy developments, which they can, in turn, share with the rest of the team. “You will be more likely to relate those theories to practice,” adds Betts.

Jones says: “Social work is now a graduate profession, so students who are qualifying have had to show intellectual as well as professional ability. Which means they are likely to go on developing and learning throughout their lives.”

4. You DO have experience

You have been on practice placements. You could even argue that, as this experience was gained under supervision, it was to a higher standard. Write a list of the most challenging cases you were involved with and what you learned, so that you can draw on specific examples when talking to a potential employer.  If you can answer their questions with confidence, they will be more willing to take a chance and employ you.

Remember, lack of experience doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of carrying out certain tasks, it simply means you haven’t done them before. Show you have the capacity to learn and develop. Betts says: “You have to show that you are willing, that you are aware your first position is a learning curve and you are keen and ready to hit the ground and run.”

5. Employers in England can access funding for taking on NQSWs

Finally, you could point out that the new assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) was designed to help social work graduates to develop their skills, improve their knowledge and strengthen their professional confidence. “The assessed year is for employers to draw the newly qualified workers into the culture of that organisation,  to shape their practice in line with their priorities and procedures of the organisation,” says Jones. Not to mention the fact that employers can currently access £2,000 in government funding for every NQSW taking part in the ASYE scheme.

This article was written for students and NQSWs attending the Confidence and Competence: One Year On event on 10 April 2013.

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