Ask the expert: ‘Help! I haven’t worked since I graduated in 2015’

Social work careers expert Dame Lorna Boreland-Kelly advises on how to get into social work without experience

Photo: AdobeStock/ didiksaputra

We asked you to share your social work career questions with our resident expert, Dame Lorna Boreland-Kelly. Here, Dame Lorna answers queries from practitioners looking to advance their social work careers. Check out our previous ask the expert columns for advice on other topics.

If you would like some careers advice from Dame Lorna, send your questions to

Dear Lorna,

I am emailing in regards to getting into employment in social work. I have a BA (Hons) degree in social work. I graduated in 2015 and have not been in practice. Would you be able to advise me on how I can get into the profession considering I haven’t worked and have had a long break? Any help would be much appreciated.

Kind Regards


Dear Tuyyaba,

Thank you for your letter, and congratulations on making this decision.

As is usual for me, I would have liked to have had a conversation with you about what you have done since qualifying. I would have liked to have known what work you have engaged in, to better understand the transferable skills you have acquired during this period.

I also wondered if you have contacted Social Work England to discuss becoming registered; this is assuming you are not currently, as you have not been in practice since you completed your degree in 2015. In the absence of answers to my questions, I will do my best to assist you.

Firstly, if you wish to enter into social work and be employed as a social worker in England, you will need to gain registration with Social Work England. Social work is a protected title; this therefore means it is not legal to call one’s self a social worker or to work as one if you are not registered.

According to Social Work England’s rules, if you obtained your social work qualification more than five years before applying to register, you must provide evidence of having spent 60 days (at least seven hours a day) updating your skills, knowledge and experience. The same requirement applies if you are seeking to restore your registration after more than five years away from social work.

Social Work England has produced guidance on updating your skills and knowledge, which I advise you read. You can update your skills in one of three ways:

  1. Supervised practice, which involves working under the supervision of a social worker who must have been registered for at least three years. You’ll need to provide notes setting out what you did – for example, undertaking or shadowing assessments, or applying legislation – and your supervisor must be able to confirm this.
  2. Formal study, which means doing a degree, diploma or shorter course for which a social work qualification is necessary for enrolment and which is linked to a university. You must then send Social Work England the certificate for completing the course.
  3. Private study, which includes a range of activities such as reading journal articles, shadowing a social worker (without supervision) and reflecting on your learning. You must keep a record and your private study must make up no more than half of the 60 days of updating.

A number of local authorities run return to social work programmes, while there are also universities that provide courses to help you meet Social Work England’s requirements. It’s worth looking online to see if there are any such schemes available near you.

Alternatively, you can seek employment in residential work within a social care setting in the field you are interested in becoming employed as a social worker in, eg adults’, children’s or mental health care. I am aware that some of those employed in these settings have been able to gain registration with Social Work England based on working in residential care, under a manager who is a registered social worker.

This has enabled them to gain appropriate continuous professional development (CPD) and the employment experience that can assist them to demonstrate that they meet Social Work England’s requirements to gain registration. Further, they have found that having a social work qualification has assisted them in gaining alternative employment in these settings.

You may also wish to explore some of our previous ask the expert letters, which discuss examples of other alternative employment routes including in the NHS, education and in the voluntary sector.

My reason for suggesting that you consider these routes is that you will need to build a CV and personal statement. A CV and statement will demonstrate to any potential social work recruiter that you have gained the necessary knowledge, skills and CPD to enter the profession as a social worker in addition to having gained your Social Work England registration.

I strongly encourage you to attend the upcoming Social Work in the South event on the 22 February 2024, in Winchester, if this is in your geographical area. At this event there will be recruiters from local authorities and employers from many of the other sectors I have mentioned above.

While you may encounter some challenges in gaining employment as a social worker, considering your current circumstances, with determination and endeavour from you, using the routes into social work that I have suggested, you stand every chance of being successful and the Community Care team and I wish you all the best.

Kind regards.


Need help?

Send your career questions to our resident expert, Dame Lorna Boreland-Kelly, to get more clarity and guidance on your career progression plans.

Dame Lorna has over 30 years’ experience of leading and developing social care services. She has an unparalleled level of insight into frontline social work and is well-versed in the issues that affect practitioners today.

You can take a look at previous questions and answers on our ask the expert page.

Questions can be sent to

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