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Social work and the recession – a lost generation of social workers? – By Nushra Mansuri


Part of my job includes representing BASW at recruitment job fairs such as Compass and Community Care Live.  One of the saddest things I have come across in the last 12 months or so, is unemployed newly qualified social workers across the country.  Earlier in the year, I participated in a discussion on Radio 5 Live about inevitably whatever the latest social work crisis was at the time.  However, I wanted to also point out to people that we now have a situation where social work graduates were not even able to get their foot in the door regarding getting their first social work job.  A journalist also interviewed a number of graduates who confirmed this was the case – one of them had graduated with a first and was understandably perplexed by the situation.  Many of the cohort that graduated this year and next year would of course have been encouraged to apply to become social workers in the fallout of the Baby Peter case when the previous Government had orchestrated a recruitment campaign as well as the implementation of the NQSW scheme in September 2009 ensuring that NQSWs would receive greater workload protection and support during their first year in practice.  All our expectations were also quite rightly raised through the work of the Social Work Taskforce and its successor the Social Work Reform Board in the creation of a brave new world for the profession in which our standing was to improve.

It is never good to see hopes dashed and also the deleterious effects of short term thinking; NQSWs are after all the future experienced social workers that employers currently are desperately crying out for and they should not be turned away but nurtured.  I have heard in some circles, individuals being very dismissive about NQSWs and the quality they bring in terms of their training.  To some extent, the Social Work Taskforce brought to the surface a bit of a standoff between employers and academics as the former claimed that the calibre of students was not adequate whilst the latter argued that the practice of employers was poor throwing NQSWs in at the deep end and giving them work beyond their knowledge, experience and skills.  These are two ends of the spectrum and there will be elements of truth in both arguments but it is wholly unacceptable to write off all graduates and equally condemn all employment settings.  I really do hope that the work of the Social Work Reform Board will result in much more effective partnerships between educators and employers as it is a critical ingredient in the cake and surely healthier than attributing blame – but time will only tell.

Many graduates I spoke to recently in Manchester and London tell me that they are forced to take jobs as social care workers but even then the competition for these is fierce.  Many simply want an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and are approaching employers and asking for opportunities to do voluntary work to keep their hand in but not all employers are willing to accommodate them.  At this point, I would like to applaud those social work employers that are committed to offering NQSWs jobs – this is to be commended and I wish more would follow their example as NQSWs are more often than not, a sound investment and this demonstrates visionary leadership.  Nevertheless, only two years ago, the Social Work Taskforce reported on high burnout rates for NQSWs in their early experiences of social work and we still need to guard against this.  We were also told that some 25% of graduates did not go on to practice social work which seems like a poor return.  There are still many things to be worked on particularly as we pave the way for the new assessed year in employment.

A week and a half ago, BASW held a seminar for NQSWs and students in Birmingham to offer support in finding work.  35 people attended from all over the country and we are planning to hold at least a further two seminars in London and the North next year.  People that I spoke to had been feeling very discouraged and isolated so just coming to the seminar helped them to feel that they were not alone and to counteract feelings of inadequacy and despair.  We have produced guidance for students and NQSWs on our website (ww.basw.co.uk) to help them in their efforts to find work and are also offering members support from mentors.  Finally we are planning to hold talks with the bodies that represent the directors to see if more employers can be encouraged to take a more constructive approach.  The ultimate tragedy of the current difficult economic climate would be to create a lost generation of social workers which I hope will not happen but it needs us all to be proactive.

After the death of Victoria Climbié we saw the advent of Every Child Matters in 2003 very much influenced by the Laming Inquiry.  For the first time I can remember, this inquiry flagged up workforce issues which I believe was chapter 6 of Every Child Matters.  The estimate then was that we were about 5,000 social workers short.  We then saw further attempts at workforce planning through something called Options for Excellence and the demarcation of this work to Skills for Care (in respect of adults) and the CWDC (in respect of children).  With the current changes in full flow, this work is now being remitted to the Centre for Workforce Intelligence.  It clearly is a big ask to attempt to plot the demand for social work and social care services in England given the mixed economy that we have let alone possible changes afoot.  Nevertheless, it is in my opinion, very necessary and worthwhile work that should help us to make a much more coherent case for the need for social work services.  I was struck this week by data produced by the DfE about the variation in children in need populations from locality to locality.  With the developments in technology we should be able to look at demographic trends, variables etc amongst different groups and correlate this with need for social care etc.  Whilst some of us may struggle with the likes of Tescos increasingly populating our environments we could probably learn something  from them in terms of how they analyse local populations and accordingly cater for local demand and  tastes.  So where am I now going with this blog you may ask?  I simply want to say that our raison d’etre is first and foremost because individuals, families and communities need us so we must ensure that when arguing for services and against cuts we are firmly rooted in this reality and should be doing this in collaboration with service users and carers.  Recessions will come and go and in the present case, can be particularly difficult for those working in the public sector but the object of the exercise is not merely preservation of the workforce but underpinning this with society’s need for social work and social care and if anything, how the economic downturn is likely to increase the need for our services as inevitably society becomes more unequal and blighted by poverty.

Nushra Mansuri (@BASW_UK) is the Professional Officer for BASW (British Association of Social Workers).

The time and date of the debate are as follows:

Topic:    Social Work and Social Care Employment Prospects in Times of Austerity

Date:     Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Time:    15:00 to 16:15 EST  (20:00 to 21:15 GMT)

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Social work and the recession – a lost generation of social workers? – By Nushra Mansuri

  1. Thanks for the thought provoking posts, Just to add my pennyworth,

    The research report on the Evaluation of Newly Qualified Social Workers can be found at http://www.cwdcouncil.org.uk/research/projects/nqsw-pilot-evaluation

    The stats re take up of social work jobs by new graduates can be misleading. it is taken at the 6 month post qualification point and many take longer to get their first job for a host of reasons as well as the shortage of posts.

    The replacement for NQSW, the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment, puts much emphasis on lighter workloads and more frequent supervision (quite rightly) in the first year but without the funding resources that CWDC provided for the NQSW pilots. Whilst employers are looking for staff who can hit the ground running because of rising workloads. You wouldn’t ask a newly qualified doctor to undertake complex medical procedures.

    http://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/socialwork/assessedandsupportedyearinemployment.aspx

    Posted by Jaxrafferty | December 12, 2011, 7:28 pm
  2. Big, big subject and I’m looking forward to seeing people’s comments tomorrow. I’m an NQSW, and feel very lucky to have been employed in a social work post – I think I’m in the minority for my cohort. Having said that, I’m on a temporary contract, I’m being paid a grade lower than that of a qualified sw, and my caseload is anything but protected both in terms of volume and complexity. My manager does recognise this, but can’t really do anything about it because she is just as much at the mercy of outside influences as I am. .. . on the positive side, I couldn’t have wished for a better practice crash course than the last 6 months.

    Interesting article and certainly reflects much of my own experience, thank you.

    Posted by robert guzder (@robertguzder) | December 12, 2011, 8:57 pm

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