Podcast Episode: Careers in Care: Social Work
Category: Practitioner stories
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MD - Michelle Drumm
RM - Rowena McIntosh
JM - John McVey
JS - John Stewart
On the 16th of September 2019, Iriss attended the launch of the SSSC's Careers in Care website which was created to highlight the wide variety of career opportunities available in the sector. The resource demonstrates how people can build a career working with children and young people in social services and health care settings or as a social worker. We spoke to social services practitioners who shared their career stories for use on the website. In this final episode of three, we hear from Rowena McIntosh: a social worker, John McVey: an academic and John Stewart: an Inspector with the Care Inspectorate who talk about their journeys into the profession and the skills required to be a social worker.
MD So, I'm here with Rowena McIntosh, John McVey and John Stewart. If we go Rowena first, did you always want to work in Social work?
MD Right, okay.
RM That was something I came to sort of later which was quite common in my course was that, I was one of the youngest people that ... I think I was 26, when I joined, I was one of the youngest people on the course actually, I always thought I'd work in the public sector but I wasn't sure what and I did a masters in public policy and then I worked as a policy researcher for two and a half years but before that I had been a student councillor and I'd also worked with young carers in just the sort of jobs as I was studying and I realised as I was working in policy research that I really missed working directly with people.
RM And just when I was kind of construing what I would do, moving forward, and kind of felt like I wanted to train further and ...
RM ... so, I started to think about social work and that's how I ended up doing it, yeah.
MD Okay, thank you and John, what about yourself as an academic?
JM For me, not at all, not academia and not even social care. Left school to be a postman because it was better than walking the streets but then done every single job imaginable and then my mate's mum, my friend's mum, got me an application form to join the Richmond Fellowship, and it was working in a mental health service and from the day dot, I absolutely loved it, properly just got right into it and thought, "This job's amazing, you get to talk to people every single day, you get to take people out for their shopping, you get to just help people in their daily life." And I just thought, "This is brilliant." And sadly, it was never something that was offered as a career through school, nobody had ever mentioned it which is always strange and I think there's a better push on that now ...
MD Uh huh.
JM ... but there was nothing ever mentioned in school so got into it by complete accident about 22/23, loved it, got promoted a few times, ended up being a manager with the Richmond Fellowship, and then felt there was something else I wanted to go and do so that's when I went to Uni and started getting other qualifications and stuff and got my job with City of Glasgow College and ...
MD So, now you're lecturing in the City of Glasgow College.
JM Yeah, yeah and it's all within Social Care and I think I enjoy it because I'm bringing practice into it, so it's not just teaching from a book or anything like that, it's actually telling stories of how it actually happened so, I quite like bringing all the practice back into it. Here's the theory, here's how you do it and here's ...
JM ... a story of how it actually went down so, I genuinely love my job and I love that I've got that experience that I can then share with everybody.
MD Yeah, it's brilliant and I think you're right, the point you make about social care work not being promoted to people in school. It's something, almost, that people think you do part time while you're studying or something but you know, it's not a real job.
JM Yeah, but there seems to be, I would say, a much better push on it now.
MD Uh huh.
JM It's actually being sold as a career, which it is, you can go into it and we were talking about earlier on that no wrong route, which is definitely me, cos I'm going to do even more studying and I'm 37 and I left school, didn't want to go to Uni, got a job and then worked my way up so there's like no wrong route, you don't have to leave and go directly to Uni, you don't have to leave and go ... whatever, whatever works for you.
MD There's a lot of flexibility in it.
MD Yeah and it's fantastic today, today's the launch of the Career's in Care website resource so, fantastic to see the careers being promoted and John, tell me, did you always want to work in social work?
JS Yeah, yeah, I've always wanted to work in social care so, I mean, I volunteered in a old folks home when I was in my early teens, as part of the Scouts. I used to play bingo on social nights on a Friday night and literally went into a NC college course with Anniesland College, at the time, and then got my first job as a relief worker in an older people's care home, 22 years later on I'm not with the Care Inspectorate, 4 years, but I mean out with that, I mean it's been 18 years of actually frontline delivery with older people. I've done every role from relief through sort of senior, I've been the manager for a decade, so it's been a real progression and I think that kind of enables me to take forward a lot of kind of empathetic head when I go into my job because I remember what it was like to actually work in services ...
MD Uh huh.
JS ... and I kind of bring that realism, I think, and I may be still out of touch a little bit now cos its four years now since I've been practicing but it certainly enables me to go into that ...
JS ... with that view so ...
MD Yeah, it absolutely would do, it would do.
JS ... and the vocational qualifications is certainly, I never went to Uni to do university courses, I mean I've done my vocational SVQ's throughout my whole career actually and now doing the PDA with the Care Inspectorate so it's been a big learn on the job.
JS Truly good.
MD Yeah, brilliant.
JS So that will save a lecturer? 11.46
JM But it is, I think it's getting that balance and that's what's good about the vocational qualifications is you do your job, you learn how to do your job but then you just learn about why you're doing your job ...
MD Uh huh.
JM ... so it kind of puts it in ...
JM ... and makes it so much easier and so much better.
MD Yeah, yeah if it's still together.
JM And it's good that they accept those qualifications so it's not a year spent doing your HNC, you can actually do it while you're working, get your SVQ level 3 and it still counts towards your registerable qualifications.
MD Yeah, brilliant. What kind of qualities do you think social workers need?
RM Oh, it's quite interesting because I think a lot of people think that social workers are really like nice, fluffy people, in terms of you know, that you're overly sort of touchy feely, I suppose, but actually I think that there's something about being able to be really empathetic and compassionate but also quite boundaried and quite able to challenge people, you know, whether that is on their behaviours in a more statutory setting or if that is about actually challenging them to sort of take steps to improve their life and I think that you've got to have that, I think, that ability to find that balance. I think you've got to have a sense of humour, very, very much, a sense of humour, a dark sense of humour helps and I think you've just got to have real core values of social justice, actually. I think the most effective social workers I know, are people that really want to deeply effect change, social work used to be really political, it's not any more, which well it is, but not in the way it used to be and I find that quite sad but I think that's starting to have a bit of a resurgence, I think it's becoming more political again, we certainly feel it's impacted a lot of cuts and austerity and things like that and I think even if it isn't about a wider political context, I think, having a want to impact social justice and social change in people's every day lives, in terms of helping them challenge systems and oppression, I think you've really got to have that in your core, and your real sort of belief in people's ability to change and to grow.
MD And what does a typical day look like for you then?
RM Oh, there's no typical day. None at all unless it's ... so, I work a voluntary project in a statutory setting so, we do group work, so, our group work days are kind of follow a formula but a typical day could be anything really for me. It could be, you're doing an assessment with somebody, doing a risk assessment, it could be supporting somebody to, you know, a meeting, it could be crisis handling, it could be talking for a long time with someone on the phone, it could be home visit, it could be meeting with somebody who's maybe more involved with the court system at that point, for my job so, really ... a lot of meeting with people, with clients, with service users, yeah no two days are the same. I couldn't really describe a typical day.
MD Yeah, it's probably a good thing as well.
RM Yeah, it definitely means it keeps you on your toes for sure.
MD Uh huh, uh huh and for people who are thinking about going into a career in social work, would you offer them any piece of advice around that?
RM I would say, do it, only do it if you really believe in wanting to affect change, I think, even if that is on a small level in somebody's life. I think social work is really hard, it's emotionally hard, you're working with, you know, really strange stress services, and there's a lot of expectations and stress on you and you've got to have that belief that you're making some sort of change or that you're trying to make change to keep you through otherwise you know, you'll burn out. That sounds very negative about the profession but I think it's the reality is that we are working very, very strained services and you know, it's a lot of emotional stress cos you're dealing with people when they're at their most vulnerable and you've got to really believe in that otherwise, I think, it could be quite easy to become cynical so, I would say that you need that passion to actually really want to affect change.
JM I think for social care, I would always just say, say yes to everything, never say no because I've went on so many different tangents of going to work in different services and at the start, you're thinking, "Oh, I don't know if I want to go and work with ... say older adults." And then you go and do it and you really, really enjoy it so, never say no to anything ...
JM ... because and it builds up your experience and I think experience is what get's you through. It's what's got me to where I am, I'm sure it's what ... it makes you better ...
JM ... at your job because you've got the experience of so many different facets of social care and I think that's what makes it better, so never say not to anything, always say yes.
JS It's generally that kind of buy in, though isn't it? You've got to be there, because you really want to be there cos you're not like sitting in a shop, kind of processing shopping going through a check out. You're actually dealing and supporting people with feelings and people who actually have some support that they need or they may have mental health, complex needs and stuff so you need to remember that you are actually managing and supporting people and if you're not there for the right interest, you're not going to bring the best out of it and often, you know, we'll see ... you know yourself, and people know families who have somebody in a care home, there will be some workers they really love, some workers they don't love but what is it that makes them more loveable than others, and so it's just generally that passion to really want to be there and do your best, as you say, to contribute to the outcome to make a difference.
RM And it can be incredibly rewarding, I feel like I've been a little bit negative in terms of how, you know, it can be stressful but I think that's a reality ...
RM ... you know, but it can be incredibly rewarding when you feel like you are really helping people make change. I remember when I first started my first placement, I got myself completely tied up in knots about this home visit that I was going to go on and it was like a really basic home visit, it was for like respite or self-assessment or something, it was to basically say, "do you want to go into respite for a week? Okay, here's the dates." You know, "and here's the medical forms." I mean obviously it was having to have a conversation with somebody but that was the point, I got myself completely caught in knots about like how I was going to manage the conversation, because there was some family tension going on between the person that was going to respite but I remember this experienced colleague said to me, she was like, "It's just a conversation." She's like, "So much of this job is about conversation and it's about connection, it's about having genuine meaningful conversation." Because you can't ... if you don't understand where somebody is at or what they're going through, you just need to listen, it's just a conversation.
MD Uh huh. And like, with positive intentions, I guess as well, isn't it?
MD To have the best outcome for everybody ...
MD ... involved.
RM Yeah, but I think sometimes you can over complicate these things and I think, it is complicated, people are complicated, but you know, I think it really comes down to that ability to listen to people, connect with them, understand them, have them understand your intentions.
JM If it's looking for that change and you don't do your job for any thanks at all, you do your job because you enjoy your job but every now and again, you'll get that, "Oh, that was brilliant, thanks very much."
JM Or a family member saying, "That was brilliant, I've not seen my mum enjoy herself that much in ages." And that's exactly ... it just makes your heart grow and think," That's amazing, that's why I do my job."
RM Uh huh, uh huh.
JM And that's what's really, really good and don't get me wrong, obviously as you've said there are some downers now and again and there are some strange stressers within that job but for most of the part, it's all really, really good.
MD It's all positive.
RM Uh huh.
MD Yeah, good.
RM I think maybe some of the difficulties in social work is that we have a lot of statutory responsibilities on us so that can make it very difficult to sometimes feel like you're able to do that extra bit, that real bit that fosters that connection and I suppose that's where I'm meaning that you know, you need to have that passion to want to do that because you know, you need to really want to do that on top of the sort of statutory responsibilities and things to actually create ...
MD Yeah, yeah.
RM ... those connections and those relationships.
MD Great. Is there time and is there opportunities for learning and development in social work?
RM I don't know, I don't know if these guys can speak for social care but certainly in social work, I think it's difficult, I think it's difficult particularly people that have high levels of statutory responsibility whether that's criminal justice or adult protection or child protection, it is difficult for them to but I think we're really beginning to realise how important it is to kind of let people away for that kind of thing and I think it really does need to be supported by leadership cos people need to feel that they've got that backing ...
RM ... to be able to take that time out to do it and you know, their workload is going to be managed in their absence or you know, someone's going to have their back and it's going to be compensated for in terms of their workload.
JM I think within social care, because it's a vocational award, you're going out and you're doing observations and stuff so the time is there to actually do it, they need to put their own time in but you can work through qualifications and end up with a degree equivalent qualification by not going to Uni but you've done the work and it's the exact same, it's SVQF level 9 so therefore you've done that through your own work, your own graft and I think that's really interesting for people ...
MD Uh huh, uh huh.
JM ... because, "Oh I could never go to Uni." Well you don't need to go to Uni, as we said earlier on, it's that no wrong route, so, you can go into social care and build your way up so, you can start at the bottom and end up service manager which I think is a really, really good thing for people to push themselves and know that that's there.
JS But the SSSC is a kind of registering body for us so, I mean, what sort of things would you put on your post-registration training learning, in terms of your kind of (... unclear)
RM So, adult protection, child protection courses, I mean I guess, it's the stuff that's specific to the work I do ...
RM ... so, I do a lot of training in trauma, do a lot of training in like sexual and gender based violence, I'm starting to move in to train the trainer stuff on trauma, I've also done some more sort of therapeutic trainings, I've been really lucky in my role because it's a voluntary service within a statutory setting so that's quite unusual and I do get that ... I am afforded those opportunities but that's very much comes from leadership as well that that time is carved out for me, but I think that, yeah, that is what John was saying there about the ability to train on the job, I think is so important and unfortunately I think social work seems to have moved away a bit from that, we used to have a lot more people would train on the job through open university and it would be kind of sponsored, you'd be working as a social care assistant, a community care assistant. I know a few people that qualified that way but that apparently seems to kind of be phasing out so people are having to go and spend a great deal of money unless they get a bursary to train as a social worker whether as an undergraduate or a postgraduate, I did it as a postgraduate in 2 years, and that I think is a real shame cos I actually think it's quite, I think it's making it a lot less accessible. I don't know if it's specific to where I'm working but I know that that's not really happening as much as the more certainly, where I'm working but I think, yeah, because I think for quite a long time now generally as a society, there's been a real focus on higher education as being the route into careers and I think, you know, we really moved away from stuff that was very valuable in terms of like apprenticeships and about people training up on the job and actually cos like I say, it's not the same route for everyone and that's also accessible to everyone or what everyone wants to do, depending on their life experiences and I think it's so valuable that we have people training on the job, I think that that's great. To me, it'll be a lot of my training as a social worker, those two years in the masters, a lot of it didn't make sense until I actually started working.
RM You know, that's why your placements are important but there's a lot of why I could see it might have been good if I was doing it at the same time.
MD Great, well thank you all for your time, that was really interesting. Great, thanks.
JM Cool, thank you very much.
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