Should students be warned about the reality of their chosen profession?


It’s in no ones  interest if students drop out of courses or leave the profession a couple of years after qualifying. It may seem counter productive for those trying to fill courses or recruit people to the profession but rather than just emphasis the ability to help people and make a real difference to their lives we should be frank about the frustrations, limitations and how they will really spend their time. Of course they will get a dose of reality on their practice placements but often what they describe as a disappointing or bad experience is dismissed by tutors as untypical when in fact it is the tutor who has failed to recognise how the work place has changed.

Students are idealistic and so they should be. Nothing would ever change for the better it a new generation didn’t regularly enter the profession with optimism, enthusiasm and a belief in their ability to make a difference. But it’s not fair on the student, the placement supervisor or the teams they join if they are unaware of the challenges and don’t have a realistic view of how they will spend their time.

This is not a problem unique to social work, teaching and nursing have recognised the same issue. A new report by Health Education England,  in  response to concerns about the number of students failing to complete their course or quitting the profession with in two years, has recommended prospective student nurses should be warned about the challenges and demands of the job before choosing to pursue the career.

One of the recommendations of the report was that practitioners should be more involved in the process of accepting students on courses and preparing students for placements. From my own experience I would recommend a short placement in a field work office in the first term, better still a requirement to have spent time in a field work office before being accepted on a course. I entered the profession through a trainee scheme run by Birmingham social services which provided a group of us with a series of placements and a good grasp of social work in different settings with different groups. All the group who completed the trainee scheme also completed their social work course and went on to pursue a career in social work. 

In the current financial climate trainee schemes like the one I benefited from are unaffordable but failing to make potential students aware of the realities of the job is also expensive. 

We need students to enter their training and complete their courses fully aware of the challenges and demands of the job not as so often is the case with an outdated view of a profession that has been twisted and reshaped by years of austerity. 

Blair Mcpherson ex social worker and former director 


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