The catch 22 situation of gaining employment as a social worker

Students working towards an education that qualifies them for jobs as social workers are caught in a “Catch 22” situation: to get a good job they need to have statutory experience on their resumes, but they can’t get that experience without getting a job that supplies it – an awkward impasse for many.

A review by Sir Martin Narey (currently Ministerial Advisor on Adoption) and David Croisdale-Appleby (recently appointed chair of charity Dementia UK) is underway, to be published in the next few weeks. They are exploring the problems in social services, particularly the lack of available placements for NQSWs (newly qualified social workers).

Though the government has repeatedly stressed the need for qualified social workers to take up a heavy workload in the field, actual positions in which a newcomer can not only gain crucial experience but also get paid a living wage are scarce. In the period from 2006/7 to 2009/10 the number of statutory placements rose by a minimal 0.9% while the number of social work students increased by 7.2%.

In fact as of 2013 at least two-thirds of local authorities in the UK had reduced the number of positions open to new workers, so there are fewer jobs available and more applicants for them, which raises unemployment rates in the sector even higher. The problem, simplified, is the discrepancy between government requirements for social work training and the requirements (or expectations) of employers.

The Department of Health requires a set number of ‘learning days’ for students where they are practicing statutory tasks that include legal interventions. Full time employers willing to pay a viable wage are looking for applicants who have statutory experience. Therefore even after completing years of study and earning a social work degree, many students find no one will hire them because they lack statutory experience.

For any social work student, it’s very important to scrutinize the courses provided by institutions offering a degree; the criteria should definitely include placement in a setting where statutory experience can be gained. Since those positions are almost always with local councils – which are short of both funds and experienced personnel – the problem is not likely to be solved in the near future.