Learning during the pandemic – the experiences of newly qualified social workers (NQSW) in Wales

Featured article - 09 June 2022
By Daniel Jupp Kina, SCIE Research Analyst

Social worker

An important part of the journey of becoming a social worker is the opportunity that students and newly qualified social workers (NQSW) have to gain experience and learn skills that are essential for their profession. Practice learning is a great way for NQSW to interact with individuals, families, and colleagues and develop relationships that will be key to their professional development.

Those who qualified shortly before or during the pandemic experienced temporary closure of services, shorter placements, and changes to services including the shift to virtual forms of supporting individuals. This meant that some NQSW have had limited opportunities to meet and interact with individuals and families and work alongside colleagues.

As part of a research project commissioned by Social Care Wales and led by SCIE, we had the opportunity to talk to NQSW in Wales to hear about their learning experiences during the pandemic.

The importance of relationships

Relationships are central to personal and professional development and the lack of opportunities to interact greatly affected NQSW learning experiences in the following ways:

Incidental learning

When sharing the same space, NQSW can hear colleagues talking about work, or talking on the phone with individuals and families, creating opportunities to ask questions, and learn from colleagues through real-life examples. It was very difficult to replicate this type of learning remotely.

Informal support

Having fewer opportunities to develop relationships also affected how they felt supported. While formal types of support such as supervision, meetings, and training continued remotely, NQSW highlighted the importance of the informal types of support. In shared spaces, NQSW were able to spontaneously ask questions, bounce ideas and receive reassurance. While this was still possible remotely, the formality of video calls felt more “clinical”.

Wellbeing

While working remotely, some NQSW tended to feel more isolated, and less supported, as well as having to deal with all the professional and personal challenges caused by the pandemic. This placed NQSW under pressure and affected their wellbeing and learning experiences.

Resilience

Despite the difficulties of working through the pandemic, NQSW rose to the challenge, "hit the ground running" and continued to support individuals and families. We heard about several initiatives that NQSW, Local Authorities, and Universities in Wales adopted to keep services running and there are helpful lessons that we can learn from NQSW’s experience as we move forward. These are set out, alongside our recommendations in our report recently published by Social Care Wales.

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