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Herefordshire Council

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From apprentice to social worker: the value of practising while you learn

Choosing apprenticeships as a route into social work. Photo: Alessandro Biascioli/ AdobeStock

Four apprentices, and an advanced practitioner who supports them, talk about how Herefordshire Council’s restructured apprenticeship course is benefiting social workers

Herefordshire Council delivers its three-year apprenticeship through Coventry University. Lectures occur in person each Monday at the university, making this the first year that the council has partnered with the university in this way. We asked Hannah, Amie, Kate and Caitlin what inspired them to start the apprenticeship course, and spoke to Rose, an advanced practitioner who supports them, about how the apprenticeship course is structured.

Hannah: I’m a 16+ personal advisor for the leaving care team and a qualified counsellor. Through my role, I found working with younger people rewarding. My mum is also a social worker and that probably inspired me too. Being able to learn and gain a qualification alongside employment without incurring any extra cost is so valuable.

Amie: My experience is quite varied. I’m a 16+ personal advisor. Like Hannah, I am also a qualified counsellor – for 16- to 19-year-olds. I’ve worked in pastoral care in a school, and I was previously a foster carer. I love working with young people and I didn’t want to stop doing that for three years to qualify.

As a foster carer, I saw how a good social worker can have such a positive impact on children and young people who can often be quite unsettled. I saw that having that positive influence long term can be so valuable and I wanted to do that, which is the reason I wanted to go down the apprenticeship route. Money is a factor as well, so I wanted to be able to retain my wages while doing the apprenticeship.

Working and studying simultaneously was an incentive to choosing the apprenticeship scheme. Photo: NDABCREATIVITY/AdobeStock

Kate: I am a family support worker in the child protection and court team. I worked for 10 years in children’s residential homes. I saw examples of fantastic social work practice. I also saw some examples where I felt like children were being let down. That’s what made me transition to family support. I wanted to see it from the social workers’ perspective, and it opened my eyes to the pressures that they are dealing with.

Also, I have a family and I wanted to professionally develop to become a social worker. But I can’t afford to leave my job and go to university. So, this is a perfect route for me because I can balance my work life, my study and my family.

Caitlin: I am a family support worker in the early help team. My parents are foster carers, so I’ve always been around social care. That’s the side of support I really wanted to get into from quite a young age, but I wanted the experience of working with families in different areas.

Rose is an advanced practitioner in the Social Care Academy in children’s wellbeing, safeguarding and family support at Herefordshire. She explains more about the apprenticeships course and how it is structured.

The course follows the social work apprenticeship knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) in line with other courses. Students cover different KSBs over the three years.

Instead of students learning in block sessions and gaining their experience during the typical 70- and 100-day block placements, students learn on campus once a week on a Monday and spend the remainder of the week ‘on placement’ in their existing roles. This allows them to put those theories they learn at university into practice.

Apprentices have three days in total of shadowing as part of the apprenticeship expectation in year two and then a 50-day ‘contrasting’ placement. This is likely to be within adults’ as would be the case on a traditional degree course in their third year.

It wasn’t until I started my placements [during my journey into social work] that those theories came to life. And so I think it’s beneficial for students to have those relationships with their management teams.

Valerii Honcharuk

Apprentices have three days in total of shadowing as part of the apprenticeship expectation Photo: Valerii Honcharuk/ AdobeStock

My job is to basically make sure that we maintain the links with our apprentices so that they have somebody in-house to go to, to feel comfortable with. So, when we move on to the next two years and we are their practice educators, they’ve already got those relationships with us, and don’t necessarily feel like they must start again.

I think the biggest thing is supporting the apprentices to understand how their current job roles meet those knowledge, skills, and behaviours that they’re expected to meet on their course.

We want them to achieve. I started in Herefordshire seven years ago, and I started on a ‘grow your own’ journey and Herefordshire is still very much committed to that. So, it’s about the support that we can give the students to make sure that they’re growing and giving them the space and being able to support that once they’re finished.

We wanted to find out if apprentices felt supported in their placements. This is what they told us:

Caitlin: I can bring that learning into practice within supervision, which has made me feel like I get a lot out of the training. I have been able to reflect on perhaps what I could have done better or should have done to achieve a better outcome, which is useful.

Being in university and having that protected time on Mondays allows me the time to sit back and analyse my practice. It means I am more focused and I get that direct contact with the lecturers. You can ask questions every week rather than have to email, and you can access the libraries.

Hannah: My manager is extremely supportive from the start and won’t contact me on Mondays [when I am at university]. She asks me what I have learnt, and how I can be supported to put that into practice. I think it’s better having it one day a week than having a block week because I know that after a day, my brain’s quite saturated and I need a bit of a break.

We also asked the apprentices how they saw their careers developing. This is what they told us:

Hannah: We’re going to move into looking at human growth and development, and law. I’ve trained as a therapist and have always reflected as a therapist and in a non-directive role. My current training helps me to approach reflection in a different way instead. Now that I am in a directive role, I am actively involved in people’s lives and, instead of just reflecting on my practice, I am reflecting outside of myself and thinking, ‘What does somebody else need and what should I be doing?’.

I would like to work in the looked-after teams and I would like to do some more educational things if it’s possible, like becoming an advanced practitioner or being able to do a Master’s.

Kate: I’m in child protection in court now but I think assessment is an area that I would like to explore when I’m qualified but I am not sure I’d like it because it isn’t long-term.

Caitlin: I worked alongside the assessment team for a period, of time so I’d like to do that or work in the children in care team. But, I think there’s so much scope once you become a qualified social worker. You can move around and find that area that you’re really passionate about.

Herefordshire Council’s Social Care Academy contains a dedicated team of advanced practitioners who support the social care workforce with their continuing learning and professional development.

Advanced practitioners offer tailored support to newly qualified social workers during their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE) and provide a bespoke development programme.

The academy also supports different routes into social work, including apprenticeships, and provides volunteer opportunities to support with Social Work England re-registration.

Herefordshire Council’s dedicated recruitment website provides information about each development pathway, the council’s social work teams, the variety of roles available and what a beautiful county to live, work and thrive Herefordshire is.

Find out about the latest vacancies and learn more about the authority here.