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Wiltshire Council

In the spotlight

‘Try before you buy’ and peer training: how a council is giving its social workers new opportunities

Lucy Townsend
Lucy Townsend

A sponsored feature from Wiltshire Council

When Steph Coomber joined Wiltshire in 2013 as a children’s social worker, it was with a view of finding the development opportunities and career progression she hadn’t found in four years at her previous job.

Five years later, she’s undergone practice educator training, been an aspiring manager – a role specifically created by Wiltshire Council in recognition of the additional support, guidance and mentoring that those in their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYEs) need when they first qualify, and as a development role for experienced social workers to move in to – and she’s also worked as an assistant team manager. She’s currently a team manager in the council’s Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub.

Steph’s opportunities haven’t stopped there. Her current role is a seconded one as she helps the council develop its redesigned approach to working with children and families – one that unites different agencies to support families earlier – and she’s undertaking a Chartered Management Institute (CMI) accredited leadership and management apprenticeship which is paid for by the council.

“There is protected time to do the apprenticeship and there is an element of personal commitment as well – there are assignments that I’m writing in my own time – but I’m willing to put that in as Wiltshire has put me on the scheme and funded it. I’m just returning the commitment,” Steph explains.

“I think Wiltshire has really valued me and recognised my ability by offering me promotions and supporting me to progress.”

See how social workers practice in Wiltshire.

Flex working environment and posts

While Steph’s current role isn’t a permanent one, secondments are a development method the council uses for social workers and staff considering career progression and management.

Lucy Townsend, director of families and children’s services, explains why the council chooses to offer flexible career options to its social workers.

“We treat secondments to permanent posts as a trial, a ‘try before you buy’.”

“Sometimes social workers and managers want a new opportunity but are not 100% sure, so secondments are a really good way for individual employees and managers to have the opportunity to see if it’s a good fit,” Lucy says.

“Through this scheme many managers have grown into new roles and taken new posts they were initially sceptical about,” she adds.

How your social work career can develop in Wiltshire’s social care academy.

Building expertise and skills

As well as career progression, Lucy says one of the council’s key aims is to support the expertise and skill development of social workers on the frontline. This includes the development of Wiltshire Council’s own practice framework, the CARE framework (Context, Action, Rethink and Empower) created by their principal social worker which aims to support social workers to work with parents to develop their own goals and outcomes which they are therefore more likely to achieve.

The council encourages social workers to try roles in different teams in Wiltshire’s four different locations, whether it be fostering, child protection, or specialist child sexual exploitation.

Lucy says people are supported to move around teams to “develop or try something new”.

Social workers are encouraged to share learning and expertise with others on their team, including topics such as child sexual exploitation, where one practitioner might deliver training to their colleagues. This is part of the council’s aim to develop a ‘career is my asset’ mindset which has a strong focus on creating a learning and development culture.

This has included the development of Wiltshire’s Social Care Academy, with clearly mapped career pathways providing mandatory as well as ‘hot topic’ training for social workers in their first year of practice and additional training social workers can take part in.

“Career progression is not just about going upwards, it can be about the breadth of skill, the knowledge base and that people have the opportunity to learn new things,” she adds.

‘It retained me’

There are options available for those who do not seek a managerial career as well; practitioners are supported to develop specialisms, such as practice education.

Steph believes the learning and development culture is symptomatic of an environment where it is safe for practitioners to try new things and have the backing and support of their managers to do them.

It is these opportunities that has kept her here.

“I wanted to work for a local authority that promotes professional development, so if those opportunities had not been offered in Wiltshire then I would have been looking at promotions outside of the council,” Steph says.

“It definitely retained me.”

What’s it like to work in Wiltshire?

Reducing stress: Wiltshire offers inhouse counselling, regular supervision, induction training for new starters which includes regular ongoing support from managers and organisational development officers in human resources. The council runs mindfulness, building resilience, developing assertiveness and emotional resilience courses. The council also supports space for ongoing wellbeing support by discussing and debriefing with colleagues and managers.

Parking: Support and safeguarding social workers in Wiltshire receive priority parking permits so they can easily park on their return to any council hub, enabling them to work flexibly from any site.

Holiday: Employees receive at least 25 days annual leave, rising to 30 after five years service, 32 after 40 years service, plus public and bank holidays. Additionally employees can purchase up to 10 days additional leave a year.

Hotdesking: Wiltshire operates a hot desking policy to facilitate better communication between colleagues. It takes into account people who work part time and want to ensure people sit with a range of different people to share ideas/have those conversations and develop a better sense of collaborative working. We give employees the technology to work from a wide variety of locations.

Working from home: Wiltshire encourages flexibility and it has made a big difference to the way’s employees work. One option is mixing working from home with working at one of our local hubs. Other flexible working options include flexi-time scheme (for most roles), compressed or part-time hours and job shares or term-time contracts (where appropriate). The council has invested heavily in new technology to support this flexibility. For example, using tablets helps our social workers to cut travel time and make administration quicker and easier.

Location: Wiltshire’s three main hubs are in Chippenham, Salisbury and Trowbridge with additional teams based in the East in Amesbury and Devizes.

Benefits:
– Local government pension scheme – all our new employees are assessed against criteria and automatically enrolled into the scheme (unless you choose to opt out). If you already have continuous service or a pension with a different local authority this can be transferred to Wiltshire’s
– Free seminars on managing your finances and planning for retirement
– Car pool – if you need a car for a business trip you can book a car. Our fleet includes fully electric vehicles and ultra-low emissions cars
– Car share scheme – if you share your commute with another employee you can benefit from reduced travel costs, while helping to reduce the number of cars on the roads
– Subsidised rail – a 25% discount on rail season tickets

A Wiltshire rewards scheme gives you access to a choice of savings and discounts:
– Discounts and cashback from well-known major supermarket chains, high street retailers and on holidays and entertainment
– Local discounts with retailers and service providers
– Salary sacrifice schemes which save tax and national insurance – including cycle to work and purchasing additional pension contributions
– Discounted leisure membership.