Step Up to Social Work graduates concerned about employment prospects, study finds

Most trainees felt adequately prepared to practise at the end of the course, but some questioned the quality of academic teaching

By Rachel Carter

Trainees graduating from the first two cohorts of the Step Up to Social Work programme had “major” concerns about whether their local authority would employ them, according to a new evaluation of the scheme.

The report, published today by the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, found that trainees in both cohorts one and two of Step Up experienced anxiety about gaining employment as they reached the end of the 18-month course.Trainees from the second cohort had been particularly concerned about employment.

Yet 82% of cohort one students did move into a social work post on graduating and 79% of cohort two students had been offered a position at the time they responded to the survey.

Mary Baginsky, visiting senior research fellow at Kings College London and co-author of the report, said: “There has been uncertainty within local authorities about budget and staffing due to funding cuts and this may have introduced uncertainty about employment among students in the programme.

“As the need for experienced social workers outstripped demand, vacancies may also have emerged that had not been expected.”

Trainees from both cohorts said they felt adequately prepared to practise as newly qualified social workers (96 and 97% respectively).

When asked to sum up their views of the programme as a whole, most saw it as successful and said it had brought some people into social work that would not have entered otherwise; the financial support that accompanied it enabled people with family responsibilities and student debts to make a career change or development.

Placement experiences and contributions from practice educators topped the lists of things trainees felt had gone well.

Where satisfaction with the course was low, there was often a link with the perceived quality of the academic input into the course.

“It has not always pitched at the right level, not well coordinated with placement learning and timing has been poorly thought out,” said one candidate. “We are covering a wide range of issues and I appreciate it would have been difficult to fit all the required teaching in however it was organised, but the university does not instill the confidence that they really know what they are doing.”

The report concluded that the most satisfied trainees were those based within regional partnerships that had been involved in both phase one and two of the programme.

The government-funded programme offers students a fast-track route into social work and is delivered through a number of regional partnerships between local authorities and universities. The first two cohorts gained a master’s upon completing the course, whereas the third cohort will study for 14 months and gain a postgraduate diploma.

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