Back in 2011 I ran my first ‘iamsocialwork‘ networking event for newly qualified social workers in London. Four years on, I’m about to run the event in 10 cities across the UK. When I was asked to reflect on the issues that newly qualifieds have been raising at these events since I started them, three main themes came to mind…
Anxiety has been a constant from day one and still something that gets talked about so much. Why, I ask myself, am I still getting weekly emails about stress, anxiety and burnout from newly qualified social workers?
I accept there are many factors leading to this, however, it’s still unacceptable. I have been in that position too when I was recently qualified and I completely relate to it. I still remember the day when a manager at the time in my office refused to take a phone message when I was juggling two urgent safeguarding cases and had only had three supervisions in seven months. I still remember how it led me to stand up in my office, burst in to tears and email the most senior manager I knew to acknowledge my departure.
I was well supported after that but the reality was that I could not hack the pressure or the caseload at that time without support and my skill set was far less advanced than it is now, two years on. But hearing this feedback so regularly from others, makes me feel that same level of stress for them that I felt that day. 1. It’s not fair on anyone. 2. It’s not necessary and 3. We can change this together.
The lesson is simple: Push for regular supervision, which meets your needs, voice your concerns and continue to escalate. A level of apprehension ahead of qualifying is natural, but reassurance and support should follow shortly after. Rest assured, any anxiety or concern is shared by so many of you about to qualify, you’re not on your own and you should know that.
Being newly qualified brings the natural worry of wondering how easy it will be to secure that crucial first job, particularly these days and with such minimal experience. The fact is – you want the job that will support you most.
Don’t even go near the ethos of ‘throw you in at the deep end’! You want the interviews that understand your knowledge is developing and your experience is limited. They are the organisations and teams that will support you most through those crucial early years.
Why teams continue to take newly qualified social workers when they do not have the resources in place to support them appropriately, I just do not know. You can tease out the support that’s on offer by asking the right questions at your interview. This is one of the biggest hopes I have for the profession, that students and those recently qualified are recruited and fully supported for as long as they each feel is needed, on a case by case basis.
3. LINKING WITH EACH OTHER FEELS GOOD!
It’s a fact. I don’t run formal conferences in meeting rooms, I run informal supportive gatherings in creative environments. They exist solely to build a stronger and wider network with a mass of people to access for information. We don’t get the chance to do many nice things outside of our day jobs, it’s good to engage in as many events as possible to keep meeting people and continue the learning, while hopefully having a great time.
Coming together with people outside of your own teams can support you through challenging times and I really think you will feel stronger and more supported for doing so. My advice is to be as open as you can to connecting with anyone across the profession that you meet and keep the communication lines open. There is more support than people realise and it’s fundamental that, that profession wide we continue to promote this.
The other thing that struck me when I reflected on these events is how much growth there really has been. Not only with the concept of iamsocialwork but also with the approach I now take to my career.
It’s easy for me to talk positively about networking, but the reality is, had it not have been for the volume of incredible people I’ve met on my journey so far and made the effort to keep in touch with, there is no way I’d be in the position I am today with both my practical approach and the thought process behind my job. These people have all contributed in many different ways and aided, inspired and taught me along the way.
Zoe Betts is a social worker in adult services and runs the iamsocialwork support events for newly qualified social workers. For details of the events, including dates and locations, visit the iamsocialwork website.