‘I was in for a shock’: A NQSW tells of her job-hunting struggles

A newly qualified social worker shares the story of her frustrated attempts to start a career in social work

By a newly qualified social worker

Carving a career in any industry can be an incredibly difficult feat. Just over three years ago, I ended my career as a broadcast journalist at the BBC and went in search for greener pastures in the world of social work.

Enthusiastic and motivated as ever, I was led to believe that there would be an endless list of opportunities for social work graduates.

Furthermore, there were the government bursaries to fund social work courses for people like me who were looking for a ‘challenging’ career change.

This only cemented the idea further in my mind that guaranteed ‘employment’ wouldn’t be too much of an issue after graduating.

I recall thinking: “Phew! Finally a career that would be free from looming temporary contracts, job-cuts and redundancies! Finally, I’m going into profession with stability and job opportunities unlike that I had previously faced in the media industry.”

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A dog eat dog world

But all wasn’t well. Lecturers, fellow class-mates as well as social workers clearly put great emphasis on securing a statutory placement.

But we were told explicitly by the university that we shouldn’t ‘personally’ get in touch with any employers or councils. Councils, in the meantime, were finding it difficult to place students within their teams because tightening budgets.

The upshot of this was that universities were being allocated a reduced number of statutory placements unlike ever before.

I suppose an uneasy feeling set in around this point but I didn’t want to leave it to chance. So I ignored the university and took it upon myself to ensure I got a statutory work placement under my belt.

“It’s a dog eat dog world,” I thought. “If I have any chance of getting a job as a social worker then I need to tick all the right boxes.”

So I found and completed a statutory placement, where I was trained by an exceptional manager within a child protection team. Shortly after my placement ended I graduated with honours and had all the skills to hit the ground running, or so I thought.

I didn’t really think anything would stand in my way when I got round to applying for jobs internally – I was in for a shock. Unfortunately, it seemed that staff already employed by the council had an unfair advantage over ‘new comers’.

A mammoth task

Becoming tired and frustrated with repeated knock-backs, I turned my hand to the mind-numbing task of registering with agencies.

But even with my HCPC registration, qualifications and statutory experience, agencies struggled to find me work. I was told I needed at least 3 years’ social work experience before I could be put forward for any roles.

I was perplexed at my situation. How was I supposed to gain more experience when I wasn’t even being offered work in the first place?

Almost 11 interviews later, I signed a contract with a local council as casual ‘social work pool staff’. It was very casual indeed, I’m still waiting to be allocated work.

For me and undoubtedly others, finding permanent work is truly a mammoth task. There’s lots of competition for advertised jobs and those with the most experience seem to have an edge above the rest.

The truth is there is no right or wrong way to land a job in social work anymore.

This was a career I pursued in the hope that I could help create positive change in our society. It’s a crying shame that countless others like me simply aren’t being given the chance to do just that.

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11 Responses to ‘I was in for a shock’: A NQSW tells of her job-hunting struggles

  1. Anaya nayeer August 18, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    A thorough insight into the world of social care employment. A very unfortunate position for the newly qualified. A shake up of enormous levels is needed from ground up it seems, otherwise talent will simply leave.

  2. Joe Godden August 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm #

    You make some very important points Saima and ones that BASW have been making over the past few years. This year we are hearing that for some NQSWs it is easier than than the past three or four years, but still very difficult. Don’t give up – if you are interested we have a mentor scheme to help people in your situation, but the key think is don’t get isolated and don’t give up. Joe Godden Professional Officer BASW

  3. Jayne Hicks August 18, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    Hi Saima

    I was a mature student with lots of life experience and years of working in different settings, voluntary and paid. However following an Access Course, A First Class Honours degree in Psychology and Sociology, 2 years working as a health care assistant in a psychiatric hospital, 2 years masters in Social Work I had the same story to tell.

    So I took a support worker job with an Older Peoples Mental Health Team supporting carers and cared for living with dementia, I loved it but still wanted to put my qualification to use !! I applied for many newly qualified jobs and Secondment Opportunities. After nearly 2 years I was offered a secondment as a Social Worker in a Mental Health Team. Still not permanent but I am hopeful that they will keep me on as the team is growing.

    I do think that you are also right in terms of jobs being offered to staff already working with a local authority, I know admin staff are offered secondments to resource officer positions.

    My advice would be to take a job with the local authority in a support role and just get your foot in the door.

  4. Mbear August 18, 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    I think this contributor is clearly not based in London where there are plenty of vacancies even for NQSWs

  5. Emma August 19, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I feel exactly the same way I am also a nqsw and have had no chance at being offered a job without at least 2 years post qualified experience. The whole situation is ridiculous, local authorities are happy to take on students on placements but will not emply them after which is beyond me. U now having to work in a completely different field and I feel that I have wasted and thrown my hard work down the drain. I see no point in universities continuing to take on new students to study this degree if there is no job opportunities at the end of it, very very frustrating.

  6. justinah Malulu August 20, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    I thought as Saima as well. Here i am languishing with my Honours.

  7. RCEC August 20, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    It does not matter where you live MBEAR the fact is even in the bigger cities there are less opportunities for NQSW’s more so, for me in particular within Adults. I graduated and started working where I had my first placement and I now work as a community care assessor for a local authority – not a social work role but not far off it either. It is frustrating to keep applying and proving that I have the experience and statutory knowledge required to then be informed that I don’t meet the criteria…

    • Donald August 26, 2014 at 2:59 am #

      Hi I find these comments difficult as there is a serious need for well educated enthusiastic social workers. However it would appear that local authorities are being very short sited. If they spent a little time recruiting those who are fresh eager and open to learn new ways plus train them to become competent practitioners they would seriously reduce their agency budget.

      At present in London and the home counties, many local authorities are running with at least 25% agency staff in some cases it is 40 or even 50%. The permanent staff, quite rightly, so then feel resentment as they seem to be always picking up the fall out when agency staff leave as the conditions are more than they bargained for. So then they too join agencies as this offers a level of flexibility and does not leave you at the mercy of over worked and in some cases less than competent managers who are struggling to keep a team together.

      Having been a social worker for a significant period I have seen the whole social work fraternity struggle with the necessary changes that have happened in social care in recent years. This current crisis is a direct result of lack of foresight and the need for a quick fix. I am sure that soon somebody will wake up and apply one of the social works skills, that of problem solving to resolve a fairly solvable issue. USE THE PEOPLE THAT ARE AVAILABLE TO REDUCE THE PRESSURE ON THE STAFF THAT YOU HAVE.
      Social work training has improved significantly therefore there is a wealth of experience, knowledge and willingness to learn from all the newly qualified people coming out of the universities. If they weren’t up to the job then they could not of obtained a Masters (I am one of life’s optimists)

  8. Linda August 21, 2014 at 6:40 am #

    It’s the same for me too. I find myself in a sad and frustrating situation. I even regret going back to university and spending my two precious years. It’s almost two years now since I completed my MA in SW. Job interview after job interview I have been told I don’t have enough experience. Honestly, where do I get that experience when I’m not given a chance. It’s a shame that you need to know someone up there to get a job…….

  9. Bernie August 21, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Its a dark place to be when you have worked to complete your social work degree and people tell you that its not enough despite three training placements. Many of the people i trained with have had the same problem .There was only one person who got a job offer at university to my knowledge . It seems things have not improved in the last four years so one has to wonder why universities are being allowed to spend tax payers money in such a wasteful way. We all know being a graduate is never easy but social work is quite different to a degree in history or English persay in what you can do with it. Its a specific professional qualification which you will struggle to apply outside of the role. I am currently in a housing role , and to be honest glad to be getting paid , but question why i qualified as a social worker in 2012. Its tough , particularly when councils and senior social workers will not develop a plan in partnership with universities to allow graduates to gain experience. Why oh why when you have HCPC registered workers in areas do councils not have a training period for recently qualified people who are paid at a training rate. I am just guessing here but is this lack of an option due to no funding being available ( although assaye is funded) is the reason . Also , is it also protecting and inflating the wage rate for agency workers throughout the UK by keeping out new workers which would also lower demand ?

    Tough and infuriating( please do not give up )

  10. Jeff August 30, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    It’s been as a NQSW’s are only allowed limited case work and put lots of extra requirements on managers of NQSW’s that can be very burdensome in a hectic, fast pace, high risk environment. Is it right….no, but w/ limited budgets and staff why hire someone who can only do half the work and requires extra support.