Transition to professional social work practice: The initial year
Keywords: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.
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