“I fear my generation may be the last who can do this,” says Geoff*. He’s a team manager specialising in working with adolescents, who’s now more than two decades deep into social work roles at the southern English council he joined in the ’90s.
Why stay so long? “One factor is the variety – while I’ve been at the same council, with the same job title for more than a decade, I’ve had different roles, including secondments,” Geoff replies.
“I love my work and my surroundings. I’m surrounded by excellent colleagues who’ve been with me a long time, and others who’ve brought fresh ideas, and I’m proud of the service I’m part of.”
Variety of jobs
Geoff adds that combining his day job with an out-of-hours role in an emergency duty team, covering everything from child protection to end-of-life issues, has kept him anchored in a broad spectrum of face-to-face frontline work. This, he says, has been good for his development as well as keeping him from feeling too desk bound.
“But with the levels of cuts coming to councils, my kind of permanency, security and professional development in one local authority may not be an option to newly qualified guys coming through,” Geoff says.
“One thing I say to my ASYE people is, do this for a couple of years then go on out and build your portfolio, do a variety of jobs early on so you find out what you enjoy and are good at, and where you can best equip yourself skills-wise.
“The chances are that if you work in a local authority, you may well find yourself in situation where your job is rejigged and you’re looking for something else, so you need as wide a focus as you can.”
While his employer uses relatively few agency staff, Geoff worries that the current prevalence of locums across the workforce risks instilling a short-termism into many departments’ ways of operating.
“Another point I’d make is that effective safeguarding of children requires good trust between partner organisations – you can’t build that if your entire workforce is on a temporary contract.”
But he acknowledges that burnout for permanent staff can come from a variety of sources: “There’s a danger with social workers going from one high-pressure job to another – that’s really unhealthy. And if you’re a frontline child protection worker, don’t do it for 10 years – that way lies madness.”
Geoff describes councils’ current budgetary situation as the worst he’s seen in almost 30 years of local authority employment. Given the pressure new social workers face, he wouldn’t recommend either of his children go into the profession.
So does he expect to still be in post in another 10 years?
“I would love to be – I still find it challenging and exciting. But do I think my post will still exist in the same way in 10 years? I’d be really doubtful. I can’t see with the changes being forced via budget constraints that anyone’s post is safe and secure.”
*not his real name