Power to the pod: Wiltshire council’s inspiring new social worker development model

A feature sponsored by Wiltshire council

Wiltshire is leading the way in social worker development. Our creative, group-led approach is unique amongst local authorities and it’s doing great things for the development of our people and our service.

The first year as a social worker can be an intimidating prospect. That’s why, when newly qualified social workers join us for their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), they join an innovative new scheme designed for mutual support and enhanced learning.

In our ‘Pod’ system each pod consists of four newly qualified social workers and one experienced mentor who takes on the new role of Aspiring Manger. The inductees can learn from each other and the group leader, whilst the group leader can gain leadership and management experience that will help them towards the next level in their own career. It’s really a win-win.

The pod members

For Daniel, who is just completing his ASYE in the Pod programme the experience has been very different from the first year he was expecting:

‘I was really surprised. You really don’t feel isolated at all. Our group felt like a little community and being able to share with others on the same level is really useful. I’ve spoken to friends who are doing their first year in other authorities and they feel much more on their own. They don’t get the mutual support.’

Caseloads are limited to 16 for the newly qualified social workers and are carefully managed, so as to offer just the right amount of work. Young social workers can go at their own pace and never feel out of their depth. As Daniel says:

‘The caseload is just right. It’s kept as low as possible for us and what’s really useful is that Steph, our Aspiring Manager, knows our cases directly. She can offer relevant advice straight away and can jump straight in if we need help.’

The Aspiring Manager is there to guide but not to take over. As Daniel says, what’s great about working in a group is that everyone contributes:

‘When we do reflective practice we all bring different opinions, experiences and approaches. You can discuss and share and learn from each other. And you make friends and connections that’ll last a whole career.’

Coming into the Pod programme as a mature student with a young family, fellow pod member Nicola had an equally positive experience. Settling in and getting used to systems and processes was easy:
‘Steph was always available to us and it was like having a bridge between us and the council. It meant that we didn’t have to worry about the little things and could just get on with learning.’

She really liked the fact that the programme let her try out different things and quickly get a diverse range of experience, whilst feeling supported in the process:

‘The more you push yourself, the more you can do. And the real benefit is that you have an experienced person who knows you and knows your caseload. Steph could give me practical advice and, when a case became more complex, we co-worked it together. I could observe and learn from her and build my confidence by gradually doing more and more.’

What’s valued most by Nicola is how Wiltshire Council thinks long-term. We have a long-term model where the same social worker sees a child’s case through from start to finish, from assessment to permanency. And we focus on the future development of our people. There are lots of opportunities and in our learning pathways tree (fig. 1) you can clearly see your path to progression. Overall, she says:

‘It’s been a thoroughly positive experience. I’d recommend Wiltshire’s Pod programme to any final year student. In fact I already have!’

Video: Deborah Barlow, Principal Social Worker for Operational Children’s Services discusses Pod working

The aspiring manager

The Wiltshire Council Pod experience has been an equally valuable one for Steph, the ambitious Aspiring Manager who led and mentored the group.

Attracted to the role by the twin aims of furthering her career at Wiltshire Council, plus the satisfaction of introducing young people into the profession she loves; Steph says she’s enjoyed every minute:

‘Working with people is what social work is all about and being able to spend time with these keen and enthusiastic newcomers has been really rewarding and invigorating.’

It’s really refreshing, Steph says:

‘Their attitude is great. And coming straight out of university, all their learning is very up-to-date and fresh in their minds. In reflective practice when we talk through experiences, theories and approaches, I often get a lot out of it too.’

And for Steph, it’s been so rewarding to see her pod do well:

‘To see them get more confidence and ability. To grow as individuals and social workers and be ready to take on more and more. It’s been brilliant.’

According to Steph, what’s so great about the Aspiring Manager role is that it has allowed her to grow her skills whilst doing the day to day work she finds so rewarding:

‘It’s like the best of both worlds. I can keep in touch with the front line practice I love, whilst getting experience of training and mentoring which will help me to progress in my career.

Gaining management and supervisory skills – it’s a stepping stone to where I want to be in the organisation.’

The Aspiring Managers have a comprehensive training programme in their own right. And, having compared notes with Aspiring Managers all over Wiltshire, Steph says she’s certainly not on her own in finding the role a positive experience.

‘What’s so great about the model of working is that Aspiring Managers in turn have their own groups (or perhaps Pods) where we can be mentored by a senior colleague.’

Wiltshire Council is a true chain of development and support, designed to help our people and services flourish. To find out more about ASYE or social work roles at Wiltshire, please visit the council’s careers page. Wiltshire Council currently have 5 pods and intend to have 9 by September 2016. There are currently vacancies for Aspiring Managers.


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2 Responses to Power to the pod: Wiltshire council’s inspiring new social worker development model

  1. Olivia Butler March 10, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

    Well done, Deborah Barlow, and well done Wiltshire for this creative investment in your social work trainees!

  2. Graham March 23, 2016 at 3:30 pm #

    Yes well done Wiltshire, pity you are planning to freeze staff increments for a further 2 years!