Transition to professional social work practice: The initial year


  • Sonya Hunt University of Waikato
  • Simon Lowe University of Waikato
  • Kelly Smith University of Waikato
  • Albert Kuruvila University of Waikato
  • Emma Webber-Dreadon University of Waikato


Newly qualified social workers, Transition from graduate to social worker, Preparation for practice, Social work registration, Practice standards, Competencies


This paper presents the findings of the first year of a three-year longitudinal study of new graduate social workers from a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program in Aotearoa New Zealand. We compare work outcomes and graduates’ perceptions of their readiness for practice against the New Zealand Social Workers Registration Board’s (SWRB’s) 10 core competencies. This study’s impetus came from an increase in the professionally accepted minimum qualification benchmark, recent political commentary on the preparedness of social work graduates, and associated roles of the SWRB and Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Work (ANZASW). The aim of this longitudinal research is to track paid and unpaid work outcomes and identify the support needs of social work graduates as they transition from students into professional practitioners. An on-line questionnaire offered graduates the opportunity to comment annually on their professional progress.
The respondents all found paid employment as social workers in that first year and identified transitional challenges. Supports to ease this transition included supervision, mentoring, collegiality, coaching, case-load protection (both volume and complexity), continuing professional development, and professional networking. Concluding that the first year of practice is a highly demanding one, we highlight the need for new graduates to have reduced case-loads and additional levels of support. This article is highly relevant for the profession in Aotearoa New Zealand and elsewhere, particularly for countries such as Australia where there is no legislated registration process for social workers.

Author Biographies

Sonya Hunt, University of Waikato

School of Social Sciences, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Simon Lowe, University of Waikato

School of Social Sciences, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Kelly Smith, University of Waikato

School of Social Sciences, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Albert Kuruvila, University of Waikato

School of Social Sciences, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Emma Webber-Dreadon, University of Waikato

School of Social Sciences, University of Waikato, New Zealand


Agllias, K. (2010). Student to practitioner: A study of preparedness for social work practice. Australian Social Work, 63(3), 345– 360. doi:10.1080/0312407X.2010.498522

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW). (2013). Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers code of ethics (2nd rev.). Christchurch, NZ: Toltech Print.

Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW). (2014). ANZASW supervision policy. Christchurch, NZ: Author. Retrieved from

Bates, N., Immins, T., Parker, J., Keen, S., Rutter, L., Brown, K., & Zsigo, S. (2010). Baptism of fire: The first year in the life of a newly qualified social worker. Social Work Education, 29(2), 152–170.

Beddoe, L. (2013). Health social work: Professional identity and knowledge. Qualitative Social Work, 12(1), 24–40. doi:10.1177/1473325011415455

Beddoe, L. (2014). A matter of degrees: The role of education in the professionalisation journey of social work in New Zealand.

Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 26(2&3), 17–28.

Beddoe, L., & Egan, R. (2013). Social work supervision. In M. Connolly & L. Harms (Eds.), Social work: Contexts and practice

(3rd ed., pp. 371–382). Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press.

Bradley, G. (2008). The induction of newly appointed social workers: Some implications for social work educators. Social Work Education, 27(4), 349–365. doi:10.1080/02615470701380170

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2013). Successful qualitative research: A practical guide for beginners. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Brown, T. (1986). Bridging the gap: Assisting new graduates to move into employment. Australian Social Work, 39(3), 13–16. Bryman, A. (2012). Social research methods (4th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Chiller, P., & Crisp, B. R. (2012). Professional supervision: A workforce retention strategy for social work? Australian Social Work, 65(2), 232–242. doi:10.1080/0312407x.2011.625036

Connolly, M., & Rathgen, E. (2000). Social work students: Readiness for practice and issues for the field. Social Work Review, XII(2), 13–16.

Davys, A., & Beddoe, L. (2010). Best practice in professional supervision: A guide for the helping professions. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley.

Donellan, H., & Jack, G. (2015). The survival guide for newly qualified social workers: Hitting the ground running (2nd ed.). London, UK: Jessica Kingsley.

Dreyfus, H., & Dreyfus, S. (1986). Mind over machine: The power of human intuition and expertise in the era of the computer.

Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.

Duke, J. (2012). Registration and professional practice. Social Work Now, 51, 9–16.

Eraut, M. (2000). Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional social work. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 70, 113–136.

Fawcett, B., & Pockett, R. (2015). Turning ideas into research: Theory, design and practice London, UK: Sage.

Featherstone, B., White, S., & Morris, K. (2014). Re-imagining child protection: Towards humane social work with families. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

Fook, J., Ryan, M., & Hawkins, L. (1994). Becoming a social worker: Educational implications from preliminary findings of a longitudinal study. Social Work Education, 13(2), 5–26.

Geoff Pearman Partners in Change. (2011). Scoping report: The Learning Exchange. Auckland, NZ: ANZASW.

Grant, S., Sheridan, L., & Webb, S., A. (2014). Readiness for practice of newly qualified social workers. Glasgow, UK: Glasgow Caledonian University.

Hay, K., Franklin, L., & Hardyment, A. (2012). From student to employee: A conversation about transition and readiness for practice in a statutory social work organisation. Social Work Now, 50(June), 3–9.

Ife, J. (2012). Human rights and social work: Towards rights-based practice (3rd ed.). Port Melbourne, VIC: Cambridge University Press.

International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). (2012, August). Policy statement: Effective and ethical working environments for social work the responsibilities of employers of social workers. Retrieved from environments-for-social-work-the-responsibilities-of-employers-of-social-workers-3/

Immigration New Zealand. (2015). Long term skill shortage list. Retrieved from uploads/long-term-skill-shortage-list-2015-03-30-.pdf

Ingram, R. (2015). Understanding emotions in social work: Theory, practice and reflection. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press. Lymbery, M. (2001). Social work at the crossroads. British Journal of Social Work, 31(3), 369–384. doi:10.1093/bjsw/31.3.369

MacIntyre, G., Green Lister, P., Orme, J., Crisp, B. R., Manthorpe, J., Hussein, S., . . . Sharpe, E. (2011). Using vignettes to evaluate the outcomes of student learning: Data from the evaluation of the new social work degree in England. Social Work Education, 30(2), 207–222. doi:10.1080/02615479.2011.540397

Ministry of Social Development. (2014, 31 March). Social work graduate program pilot. Evaluation report. 2013–2014.

Wellington, NZ: Author.

O’Brien, M. (2013). Social work registration and professionalism: Social justice and poverty—fellow travellers or discarded passengers? Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 25(3), 50–59.

O’Donoghue, K. (2010). Towards the construction of social work supervision in Aotearoa New Zealand : a study of the perspectives of social work practitioners and supervisors (Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Massey University, Palmerston North, NZ). Retrieved from

O’Donoghue, K., & Tsui, M.-s. (2012). Towards a professional supervision culture: The development of social work supervision in Aotearoa New Zealand. International Social Work, 55(1), 5–28. doi:10.1177/0020872810396109

Parker, J. (2007). Developing effective practice learning for tomorrow’s social workers. Social Work Education, 26(8), 763–779. doi:10.1080/02615470601140476

Payne, M., & Askeland, G. A. (2008). Globalization and international social work: Postmodern change and challenge. Retrieved from

Pithouse, A., & Scourfield, J. (2002). Ready for practice? The DipSW in Wales: Views from the workplace on social work training. Journal of Social Work, 2(1), 7–27. doi:10.1177/146801730200200102

Pockett, R. (1987). New graduate social workers: Mutual expectations in employment. Australian Social Work, 40(1), 38–45.

Rossiter, A. (2005). Discourse analysis in critical social work: From apology to question. Critical Social Work, 6(1). Retrieved from

Ryan, K. (Writer). (2015, April 2). What needs to change at Child Youth & Family? [Radio broadcast]. Nine to Noon.

Ryan, M., Fook, J., & Hawkins, L. (1995). From beginner to graduate social worker: Findings of an Australian longitudinal study. British Journal of Social Work, 25(1), 17–36.

Sepuloni, C. (2015). Social Workers Registration (Mandatory Registration) Amendment Bill. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 709, 37.

Smith, P. (2013). Registration: Ten years on within a non-government organisation. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 25(3), 19–24.

Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). (2012). Mandatory social worker registration: Report on the discussion paper of 2011. Wellington, NZ: Author. Retrieved from

Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). (2013a). The process for recognition / re-recognition of social work qualifications in New Zealand. Wellington, NZ: Author. Retrieved from

Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). (2013b). Supervision expectations for registered social workers: Policy statement. Wellington, NZ: Author. Retrieved from

Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). (2014a). Code of conduct. V3. Wellington, NZ: Author. Retrieved from

Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). (2014b). Practicuum within a recognised social work qualification. Wellington, NZ: Author.

Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). (2014c). Preparation and support provided to student and new graduate social workers. Issues for discussion 1 September 2014. Wellington, NZ: Author.

Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). (2014d). Recognised New Zealand social work qualifications: Policy. Wellington, NZ: Author. Retrieved from

Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). (2014e). The SWRB ten core competence standards. Wellington, NZ: Author.

Social Workers Registration Board (SWRB). (2016). Current recognised New Zealand social work qualifications. Wellington: NZ Retrieved from

Woodward, R., & Mackay, K. (2012). Mind the gap! Students’ understanding and application of social work values. Social Work Education, 31(8), 1090–1104. doi:10.1080/02615479.2011.608252

Zeira, A., & Rosen, A. (2000). Unraveling “tacit knowledge”: What social workers do and why they do it. Social Service Review, 74(1), 103–123. doi:10.1086/514459