Using the knowledge you've learnt from textbooks and turning it into practical experience is a huge milestone for any newly qualified social worker. You’ve spent the past four years studying all of the theory through your university degree and now you’re ready to tackle your first social work job.
It’s natural to feel a combination of excitement and nerves, but don't worry – help is at hand. In this blog, we’ve outlined our advice for new social workers that will help make sure your transition from the books to the field is as smooth as possible.
Get to Know the Local Resources
Establishing a thorough, well-maintained database of contacts and resources is going to get you off to the best possible start as a new social worker. While some of this information will likely be provided to you when you start a job, nothing beats having a shortlist of local resources and professionals you personally know and trust.
A key benefit of this is that you will have the opportunity to get to know people as you build your contacts list and the complementary services that exist in your area. We’re talking contacts within local and state government departments, the local job centre, police and emergency services, specialists and other health services.
As time goes on you can update and refine your list, but for the first few years, this will be your Bible and most thumbed-through book. Consider collaborating with your colleagues to make it a shared resource, growing your network further and cutting down on some of the admin as a result.
Just when you thought your studying days were over! Becoming a social worker means you’re constantly brushing up on the latest legislation, policies and developments in behavioural health. You may also decide that you want to specialise in a particular field and choose to take on advanced qualifications or training in that area.
The Australia Association of Social Work has a range of professional development resources including online courses and Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Or if you fancy a break from formal study, you can attend one of their regular events, which is also a great opportunity to network and meet new contacts.
Also, don’t be afraid to re-visit your textbooks when you’re faced with a challenging situation. You might look at that theory through a new lens now that you’re on the job.
As a social worker, you’re dedicated to looking after the health and wellbeing of society’s most vulnerable people. But let’s not forget the importance of caring for the carers, and making sure you are in tip-top physical and mental condition.
You can start by setting yourself some boundaries that clearly separate your work life from your personal life. This means talking to your supervisor if your caseload becomes unmanageable, rather than burning the midnight oil and giving up your weekends. Of course, there will be occasions where an urgent report is due or you have to work outside regular hours, but try to make these the exception rather than the rule.
Also, remember to take some time for yourself throughout the day. Meetings, reading reports and going on visits can be overwhelming, so it’s vital that you carve out some time for a lunch break to give your eyes and brain a break. A balanced, healthy meal will fuel your body throughout the rest of the day, so aim to avoid the vending machine and prepare your lunch ahead of time if you can. Finally, try to squeeze in some exercise, even a quick walk around the block, or seek out some nature like a local park or garden.
Here at Tradewind, we understand the importance of prioritising your own wellbeing, which is why we have put together our advice for creating a self-care plan to help you balance your working life and make your needs a priority.
Don’t Go It Alone
Your first year as a social worker is likely to be both rewarding and challenging as you adjust from theory to real-life cases that may involve distressing situations. But with the right support network around you, you will be able to do your best for the people you help and learn from others.
The first step is setting up regular meetings with your supervisor to discuss your processes and practices. Not only will this create an environment where you can talk openly and honestly about your experiences, but you can tap into their knowledge base and collaborate on strategies that will benefit your cases.
If this isn’t available to you in a formal setting, look for a professional mentor, whether it’s a senior colleague or someone who works for a different organisation. You could also set up a peer session where you can share your personal and professional experiences with co-workers at the same level as you. This can be comforting because you'll realise you’re not alone in the way you feel!
Need Support with Starting Your Social Work Career?
These tips for newly-qualified social workers are just the tip of the iceberg. Our dedicated team of social work recruitment specialists at Tradewind have helped graduates just like you navigate their first year in the workforce. We can also offer career advice to guide you along your long-term journey as a social worker including helping you find your next step.
With offices in Brisbane and Melbourne, we’re here to help you kickstart a rewarding career – reach out to us today to get started.