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Tracking the needs of newly-qualified social workers (NQSWs), in children and families settings, to identify the elements of induction that best support initial professional development in the workplace

Paper presented at 2008 JSWEC conference. The stimulus for this small, empirical study involving three statutory agencies in the south-west of England was provided by the convergence of important changes in 2006/07 to qualifying and post-qualifying education and training in social work, with the first graduates emerging from new degrees, and the implementation of the revised PQ framework, which stipulates a first 'consolidation module' in a specific area of specialist practice. Transferring these ideas into the workplace as part of the 'seamless continuum' envisaged for professional development presented a number of questions about the induction of newly-qualified social workers(NQSWs). A mix of methods was used to obtain quantitative and qualitative data from NQSWs, first line managers and staff development officers. Key themes emerging from initial postal questionnaires were used to inform the delivery of two sets of face-to-face semi-structured interviews with line managers and NQSWs, at six and twelve months into first employment. The study revealed a journey of transition and change, across three inter-related dimensions - personal, organisational and professional - each of which provided rewards as well as producing tensions. The personal dimension was one in which students emerging from their final placements found that the learning was not over and transition into the workplace, carrying full responsibility for a social work caseload, as well as an organisational identity, was stressful and demanding of personal resources. These experiences are explored in relation to new entrants to other professions, notably diplomate and graduate nurses and newly-qualified teachers. The organisational dimension was one in which change, both structural and procedural, appeared endemic. NQSWs faced high levels of organisational turbulence as social services departments metamorphose into services for children and young people. Management theory underpinning the development of learning organisations is used to inform understanding of the study findings and formulate suggestions for action. The professional dimension was no less beset with change with national induction standards, the review of roles and tasks, career grades and progression all coming to the fore. Discussion of the professional aspirations of NQSWs and first line managers is linked to these national debates, touching on definitions of social work and professional identity and status. Latterly, proposals by CWDC to develop a 'probationary year' for NQSWs resonatae with the issues which stimulated the study and with a number of its findings.

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