Transition to Professional Social Work Practice: The First Three Years


  • Sonya Hunt University of Waikato
  • Melanie Tregurtha University of Waikato
  • Albert Kuruvila University of Waikato
  • Simon Lowe University of Waikato
  • Kelly Smith University of Waikato


Newly Qualified Social Worker, Transition from Social Work Graduate to Professional Practice, ; Social Work Competencies, Professional Support


This article presents the findings of a longitudinal research project that followed the employment outcomes of one cohort of Bachelor of Social Work graduates for three years. Prior to graduation, students receive professional preparation that develops their ability to critically engage with theory and practice. Following graduation, newly qualified social workers require quality induction, supervision and other workload management strategies to support the transition to social work practice. The development of this study was fuelled by political criticism of social work education. Additionally, there was a desire to track the employment outcomes of the graduates and understand what supported their transition to competent professional practice.

The findings fit within a five-year longitudinal research project that follows three separate graduate cohorts each for three years to seek and compare participants’ experiences for their first three years post-qualification. An anonymous, semi-structured, on-line survey was used to provide both quantitative and qualitative data. By the second year of practice, these respond- ents were taking on the workload of an experienced social work practitioner with widely varied levels of support. By the end of their third year in practice, they reported that they had found little opportunity to apply their critical analytical academic skills to consider the wider social system in practice. Further, the graduates’ confidence in their cultural competencies also gradually decreased over the three-year period.


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