When award-winning social worker Bianka Lang told readers of CommunityCare that : “social care is ever-evolving and you need to be prepared to either adjust or grow along with it”, she received a warm response.
With this encouragement in mind, we asked other experts for their top tips on how to develop as a professional, cope with the pace of change, and accelerate careers. Their advice is useful both for those who are newly qualified, or more established and looking for a job move, or promotion.
1 Keep up to date
“It is important to keep up-to-date with developments in the social work profession”, says Tracey Rae, MA Social Work Course Leader, Leeds Beckett University. “Having a good understanding of the Knowledge and Skills Statements for Child and Family Social Workers or for Social Workers in Adult Services is essential”, she points out.
And at the BASW, professional officer Gavin Moorghan advises that social workers keep CPD at the forefront of their minds at all times, boosting this expertise by joining their professional associations, and learning about better practice. “It is one thing going to a conference or event, but apply what you learn to your case work. This makes you a good candidate for a senior role”, he says.
2 Seek training
Overcome weaknesses in your knowledge or skills set with extra training. “For example via the courses offered by Local Safeguarding Children Boards”, says Rae from Leeds Beckett.
She recommends that those post-qualifying consider appropriate courses. These include training on interpersonal skills and critical reflection, or courses leading to accreditation as an Approved Mental Health Practitioner, Best Interests Assessor or Practice Educator.
“It is possible to accrue credits on a modular basis in order to attain a post-graduate certificate, diploma or an Advanced Practice MA - all useful to add to the CV, alongside the increase in professional confidence and competence arising from further study”, she says.
3 Welcome feedback
At University of East Anglia’s School of Social Work, lecturer Dr Ann Anka advises NQSWs to demonstrate a willingness to learn and “openness to constructive feedback”.
“NQSWs bring fresh ideas, they need to be open to learning and have the confidence to challenge more experienced colleagues”, she says.
4 Leave your comfort zone
With the right support in place show that you are flexible, and willing to undertake pieces of work that are outside your comfort zone, advises Mark Gregory, team manager at Norfolk County Council. “The broader the experience that you can achieve as a newly-qualified social worker, the better it will be for your development in the long run”, he says.
In addition, maintain a professional attitude and adhere to time scales. "Be relentless in your pursuit of achieving good practice within your work--use person-centred and strengths -based approaches ", adds James Bootle, a practice consultant at the council.
5 Support your peers
It is helpful to seek out or create opportunities for peer support and supervision, says Lorraine Agu, head of subject, Social Work, at Leeds Beckett University.
“You could set up peer supervision sessions in your team, or area, providing informal support and developing opportunities for consultation or mentoring,” she says, adding that “employers welcome creative and proactive approaches to professional resilience and career development.”
6 Demonstrate leadership
A new context for leadership is emerging says Moorghan from the BASW.
“This is not just about people who want to become managers, but leading on case work”, he says. “The role is increasingly about working in partnership with others, and looking at safeguarding and advocating on their behalf,” he explains, adding that it is about supporting service users and helping people to take control of their lives.
7 Show your aspirations
Moorghan points out that it is possible to strike a balance between managing case work and careers. “Professional development can benefit service users,” he says. The compassion required for social work need not diminish ambition, and when appropriate, there is no harm in flagging up your aspirations to your line manager.
Most employers will timetable regular opportunities for career discussions. At Cafcass for example, which employs1,316 social workers, HR manager Julie Bury points to its talent management strategy which aims to “identify and encourage potential in all our staff”, and is reinforced by Performance and Learning Reviews (PLR), held every three months. The PLRs set performance and learning targets for the next three months “and cover longer term aspirations” she says.
In addition, high-performing staff can apply for the Emerging Talent programme she says.
Cafcass receives applications for Family Court Adviser and Practice Supervisor roles. Like many organisations, it looks for evidence of interpersonal, IT, and communication skills, appropriate experience, and outstanding work
The Practice Supervisors are expected to support colleagues’ learning through feedback, coaching and delivery of workshops.
“Our Family Court Advisers who are looking to progress to become a Practice Supervisor need to consistently produce good or outstanding work, have a focus on ensuring high quality, and demonstrate a commitment to supporting their own development and that of others”, says Bury, detailing principles which could be helpful to all social workers looking to enhance their careers this year.