Most newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) say they have strong levels of confidence and competence in their knowledge, skills, self-efficacy and professional values during their first year working in social work. Many also said they have autonomy, specialist knowledge and the ability to make complex decisions.
Those are some of the key findings of year one of a five-year study researching the early experiences of NQSWs. The research draws on 157 NQSW responses to a national online questionnaire and 16 in-depth interviews with NQSWs across Scotland.
We commissioned researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Dundee to carry out the study.
Early findings indicate that NQSWs receive regular supervision, experience this positively and get ‘good advice and support’ from their line managers. They unequivocally report the importance of informal support and learning from colleagues and peers in relation to professional advice and emotional support. Induction was reported by 60% of the NQSWs as being unstructured and reflected the absence of a nationally agreed framework of induction for NQSWs across Scotland.
86% of survey respondents reported a positive experience of social work education, describing it as good or very good and they valued an integrated approach to education and learning, recognising the value of positive placement experiences. However the negative impact of poor quality placements and lack of statutory learning experiences was acknowledged.
The majority of NQSWs said they had not engaged in ‘leadership activity’ since entering the profession and did not see leadership as being critical to their daily role.
The findings suggest that professional identity is complex and is shaped by a number of factors, including employers, the profession itself (a collective identity), colleagues and external influences, for example, other professionals and media sources. NQSWs were clear that professional identity could be strengthened by better public understanding of social work and the provision of robust career pathways to enable social workers to specialise and develop.
The study aims to incrementally capture professional experiences and the journey of NQSWs in their first five years is now in phase two with further findings due to be reported at the end of year.
These interesting early messages on induction, supervision and career pathways will helpfully inform our work in taking forward the priority areas identified from the Review of Social Work Education, including developing an NQSW supported year in practice and career pathways for social workers.