09 Nov 2017

Addressing the diversity deficit in UK social work – OU working with employers to harness new Social Worker Degree Apprenticeship

The Open University (OU) has secured funding from the Higher Education Funding Council in England (HEFCE) to work with employers to find ways to boost diversity in the social work sector by using the upcoming Social Worker Degree Apprenticeship (due in autumn 2018).

Funding from HEFCE will enable the OU and employer partners to explore means of using the degree apprenticeship to increase access to social work training from groups of people currently under-represented both in higher education and in the social work profession. The ultimate aim of the project is to address the challenge of social work lacking the diversity of qualified professionals to represent the people they seek to serve.

Jenny Simpson, Head of Social Work (England) welcomed HEFCE’s announcement: “The social work profession needs to – and must better reflect users of services. There are countless capable and talented people from many diverse backgrounds - including people with disabilities as well as people of different ages and from under-represented ethnic groups –who have the potential to become good social workers but either lack the confidence in themselves or have simply never given social work or university a second thought. Working with employers we aim to reach out to many more people from different groups in society to consider social work as a career – and to support them in applying for places as degree apprentices.”

The degree apprenticeship, which offers a work-based route to qualifying as a social worker, will run along lines very similar to the OU’s successful employment-based social work degree. Unlike current undergraduate social work degrees, however, the degree apprenticeship will enable employers to draw on the apprenticeship levy to fund current support staff (or new recruits) to train to be social workers – and candidates for the degree apprenticeship will not be required to pay fees or take out a tuition loan to meet the costs of the degree.

Funding from HEFCE will enable the OU to work with employers to identify ways of attracting people into social work training through the degree apprenticeship who better represent local users of services. The OU and employer partners across England will not only work to cast the recruitment net wider (identifying and sharing good practice in the field of targeted recruitment), but will also develop accessible learning resources to build the confidence and capability of candidates to prepare them for the challenges of social work training and provide resources to support apprentices throughout their journey to qualifying as social workers.

Professor Mary Kellett, Executive Dean of the OU’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies, herself a former children and families’ social worker, welcomed HEFCE’s support and the prospect of more people being supported to choose social work as a career through the new degree apprenticeship. She said: “I am delighted HEFCE has chosen to support this OU-led project. The fact that The Open University is taking forward this work is testament to both its excellent track record in social work training and its values of being open to people, places and ideas. HEFCE’s funding and support offer an exciting opportunity to look at how the social work profession can reflect the community it serves.”

The first phase of the project is already underway, and the OU is calling for employers to complete a short online survey on the diversity of their workforce to help inform next steps.

Professor Kellett adds: “I encourage employers to consider the potential of the new Social Worker Degree Apprenticeship to address the shortage of social workers and bring in to the profession social workers who are based in, and developed within, their local community. The incentive of drawing on the apprenticeship levy to support the development of social workers and the additional boost of HEFCE funding to share good practice around recruitment are very welcome indeed.”

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