Complex and rewarding: why not choose a social work career?

A-level results: What about a social work career? Article

Complex and rewarding: why not choose a social work career?

If you’re a student on the path to higher education, you’re likely contemplating your future career choices.

Today’s students face various challenges and opportunities that make it essential to consider a broad spectrum of career paths: The job market, cost of living, and global dynamics plays significant roles in shaping your future. Regardless of external factors, your education equips you with valuable skills and knowledge that can make a real difference in people’s lives. Have you ever thought about the impact you could make with a social work career?

Clare Marchant, the head of UCAS advocates that school leavers spend time researching options and preparing a ‘Plan B’ so that when exam results arrive, they’re ready for all eventualities.  Well-prepared students will understand the importance of not ruling anything out. We’ve been wondering how many school leavers have given serious thought to a degree in social work?

How many school leavers have given serious thought to a degree in social work?

Have a think back to any voluntary or paid work, or life experience which might point you towards social work. Did you appreciate the opportunity to have a positive impact on other people? Did you enjoy making a difference to people’s lives?

Any customer-facing roles where you have provided services and dealt with complaints will have value, and if you haven’t yet experienced working in social care settings, you’re in luck. There are many ways to test the water – often earning and developing valuable, transferrable skills while you’re at it.

Aim for organisations that support people. You could work with individuals, groups, in person or on the phone. This might involve offering practical help, or signposting them to other sources of support.  Consider residential care work, or working with offenders, support staff or the police.

Another good ways to gain experience is working with children and families and vulnerable groups is through volunteering. It can show you’re committed to work and is an excellent way to start your career. There are often volunteering opportunities in schools, summer camps, youth clubs and local sports teams.

Volunteering with support organisations, homeless shelters and mental health charities such as Mind, Citizen’s Advice or the Samaritans provides an invaluable foundation for a career in adult social work.

Qualified social workers often support people with complex needs and learning difficulties, people who are victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse, people who are homeless, refugees and asylum seekers, people who struggle with substance abuse, people who are involved with youth justice, people with complex mental health needs, those with dementia. They all use a range of people skills, such as, listening, counselling and problem-solving.

There are lots of good reasons why it’s worth a look.

Social work is a fulfilling and rewarding career, and if you’re interested in helping people and improving their life chances, this could definitely be the route for you. A degree in social work opens up a range of dynamic career paths. There are lots of options, all with one thing in common – not one day is the same! These roles will mean you’re on the move, often working with people with complex needs in highly charged environments, including hospitals, prisons, community centres, schools and more.

Social care degrees and qualifications can lead you to a range of specialist fields. While some social workers might work with young people and their families, others focus on the elderly, young offenders, people with learning and physical disabilities, people with mental health conditions, the homeless and drug and alcohol abusers.

Do the maths

Accounts of the global cost of living-crisis are hard to avoid right now. The costs relating to energy, food and accommodation have risen markedly over the past year.

Most students will be eligible for student finance, combining tuition fee and maintenance loans. Social work students in England can apply for extra funding through the Social Work Bursary. These are paid directly to each student at the start of each term. They can be used to help with study and living costs and don’t need to be paid back.

Alternative routes

If you decide that university isn’t for you, there are a whole range of apprenticeships which can lead to a career in social care. You need four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent, to do a Social Worker Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship. It takes around three years to complete.

Apprentices study for a three-year degree alongside full time, highly relevant employment. This means they use their newly acquired knowledge and skills from the very beginning and gain ‘real world’ experience at the same time. This route usually attracts a diverse cohort, often being taught with BA students and apprentices from across the sector.

You’ll come out with well-evidenced practice experience and assessed competency, sector-specific skills and knowledge and a professionally qualifying degree in social work.

Lots of opportunities

Back in February, the Department for Education published data showing that the number of children and family social worker vacancies in 2022 was 7,900, up more than a fifth on the previous year’s figures and the highest rate since 2017.

The reasons for this skills-shortage are complicated, but it does mean that employers are working on their ability to retain qualified social workers, and supporting new entrants so that they are highly motivated and keen to stay in the sector.

Financial rewards

Salaries for newly qualified social workers can vary depending on the local authority and location, typically between £24,000 and £30,000. With further experience and responsibilities, salaries in local authorities can rise to around £40,000. Starting salaries at the NHS for newly qualified social workers start at band 6 with a salary between £32,306 and £39,027.

The average annual pay for all social workers is £37,440. This is higher than the UK average for all workers, which stands at £26,260.

Some employers have moved to offering social workers ‘golden hello’ payments of at least £1,000. These are more likely to apply to experienced social workers, but show that local authorities are committed to attracting and retaining staff – and acknowledge the difficulties brought about by a squeeze on living standards.

Social workers enhance the quality of life for many people from all walks of life and leave a lasting impact on the people they work with. They give people a sense of empowerment and protect their human rights, health and wellbeing. Like anything worthwhile, there are challenges, but we hope you agree that it’s a career path that’s worth a second look.

We work newly qualified social workers and keep in touch with them and their colleagues at every stage of their careers. Whether you’re looking for careers advice, an ASYE position, a senior leadership role – or anything in between, get in touch to see what we can do for you.