Apprenticeships shaping the future of social work in the region

“This programme is true partnership working”


Tackling a recruitment crisis in social work is at the heart of an apprenticeship programme offering an affordable academic route into the profession.

For the last four years, a partnership between Gateshead Council and the University of Sunderland has been offering career progression through a Degree Apprenticeship programme to a number of its experienced Adult Social Care staff, who need those essential academic qualifications to become a fully-qualified social worker.

Without this programme they may otherwise have struggled to go through a traditional university degree route, due to social and financial disadvantages.

Apprentices are employees who spend most of their time in the workplace, supported by dedicated study time with the University. They are levy-funded if an organisation is a levy payer.

Thanks to the success of the current apprenticeship scheme – upskilling and retaining staff within Gateshead’s Adult Social Care team – it was felt more avenues should be explored to attract more people to the sector, with University of Sunderland support once again. The result is a new Trainee Social Worker Apprenticeship programme, this time employing three people with no prior training, ideally with personal or professional experience of the care sector and holding 120 UCAS points.

The successful candidates spend the first five months of their job shadowing experienced social workers in all areas, before supporting joint caseloads and spending one day a week at the University of Sunderland over the next three years.

Steph Downey, Service Director for Adult Social Care at Gateshead Council, says: “We are proud to be developing our own approach to tackling the regional and national challenge of recruiting into the social care sector. Partnership working through apprenticeships is just one of the fantastic ways we can help open up opportunities for people to join the social work profession.

“The Social Work Apprenticeships are also about supporting our existing workforce through career progression, by identifying experienced staff in social care who require academic qualifications to progress to social work roles. This new opportunity will build on the successful social work apprenticeships we’ve delivered with the University of Sunderland.”

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) recently urged immediate work to address the problem nationally of rising numbers of unfilled care sector jobs and the Government announced an extra £162.5m to boost the adult social care workforce.

Sarah Beck, Principal Lecturer/Team Leader in Applied Studies, at the University of Sunderland, says: “We have a track record of working together over the last four years to develop the Social Work Degree Apprenticeship Programme. The real strength of this programme is the true partnership working that it’s based on.

“This is not about the University putting on courses that employers then send staff on; it’s about planning a programme together, that meets the needs of employers and staff members, which has a lasting impact and also maintains that level of academic rigor.”

Sarah added: “The programme also fits in with the University’s Widening Participation agenda, attracting learners from all walks of life, raising aspirations and promoting social inclusion within our region.”

The partnership work between the two organisations also forms part of the North East Social Work Alliance, which sees the region’s 12 local authorities, from the Tees Valley to Northumberland, in partnership with six Higher Education Institutions focusing on social work education.

The first cohort of Social Work apprentices are due to graduate from the University of Sunderland later this year.

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