The benefits of an apprenticeship in social work

Olivia Miller
Picture by Pexels

Social workers have played a vital role in the Covid-19 pandemic, from safeguarding children, to supporting families and adults including older people who have care and support needs. The demand for social workers was high before the pandemic, and the need has only increased since. Dr Tracee Green, Director of Studies for the Social Work Degree Apprenticeship at Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR), explains the benefits of pursuing a Social Work Degree Apprenticeship (SWDA) as a route into the field. She said:

‘In September 2020 there were 31,900 full-time equivalent (FTE) children and family social workers in post, which was an increase of 3.7% from September 20191. Meanwhile in the adult care sector, there were around 17,500 social workers employed by local authority adult social service departments across England in September 2020, with a 2.1% year on year increase since 20192. This demonstrates a career choice in social work continues to be highly sought after.

‘Those looking to pursue a career in social work may be thinking about the best route to entry for them, whether through a university or work-based route. With the ability to register as a social worker, gain a BA in social work and have no outstanding tuition fees at the completion of the apprenticeship, a Social Work Degree Apprenticeship (SWDA) may be an attractive route into the field. An SWDA presents a unique balance between building experience, skills, and knowledge through practical and theoretical learning.’

Knowledge into practice

‘Like with all apprenticeships, an SWDA is composed of the Knowledge, Skills and Behaviour framework. A research-led education helps apprentices to build technical knowledge and critical understanding to practise social work in complex and demanding environments. While you can gradually build these skills through experience, studying alongside practical experience gets apprentices to critically and consciously apply their learning to real time situations.’

Workplace experience

‘Gaining workplace experience while studying allows apprentices to develop professional positive behaviours in line with the Apprenticeship standard and requirements of the social work regulator to enable them to register for practice on qualification. The blended learning approach provides students with the opportunity to make an active and meaningful contribution to the workplace, developing new capabilities through experience. It can really boost students’ confidence and provides the tools to build themselves a professional role before the completion of their apprenticeship.’

Taking charge of progression

‘An SWDA gives apprentices the freedom to be responsible for their own learning and progression. They learn to become accountable, reflective, critical and evaluative in theory and practice, which prepares them to be fully competent in the workplace.’

Widening participation

‘An SWDA widens participation and a new means of social mobility – which goes hand-in-hand with social work values. Apprenticeships work to break down some of the barriers to disadvantaged individuals being able to attend university. For example, employers or employer levy’s will pay the tuition fees and apprentices are paid a working wage throughout studies, too – avoiding having to take an unpaid gap while accruing tuition fees at the same time. Plus, apprentices then already have a job after graduating.’

Informed academic delivery

‘Employers and higher education institutions (HEIs) have a partnership relationship in the delivery of a degree apprenticeship; with both benefitting – for example, HEI getting a stronger sense of workforce requirements and current practice experience informing academic delivery. Employers get a more tailored work force to their needs while still having their apprentices meet regular requirements for social work and degree-level completion. Apprentices can feel assured that both employers and HEIs are working closely together for a shared goal.’

[1] https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/children-s-social-work-workforce

[2] https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/adult-social-care-workforce-data/Workforce-intelligence/documents/Social-Worker-Headline-Stats-March-2021.pdf

Kent’s Social Work Degree Apprenticeship (SWDA) programme is based at the University’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research. Teaching for social work courses are based at the University’s Medway campus.