*The Road Not Taken

I was asked over the weekend by someone who is just about to finish her Social Work degree and  if I would recommend she goes  for statutory or voluntary Social  Work when she qualifies.

I had no hesitation in recommending voluntary sector work in an unashamedly contradictory manner – having worked, myself, almost exclusively in the public sector. One of those classic ‘do as I say and don’t do as I do’ models!

I have very little experience in the voluntary sector – I worked in a voluntary organisation for a few years before I qualified – but that was in residential care so in quite a different capacity to what I imagine the role of a qualified social worker would be – and my second placement all those years ago when I was training was in a voluntary sector organisation but other than that, all my post-qualification experience has been in the statutory sector.

We were generally advised to ‘get some experience in the statutory sector’ before deciding. The difficulty is though is moving on from that ‘experience’.

Statutory work is for the most part going to be paid better than voluntary sector work. And once you take the penny from the paws of the State, its very very difficult to take a salary drop to go back to voluntary work. That’s what I found anyway..

My intention was, all those years ago, to go voluntary and stay voluntary – I think in some ways, some of the social justice and advocacy/support roles that I sought to implement as an idealistic student would  have been better served in the third sector.

But I’ve found it now, too difficult to go back.

Perhaps I justify it but saying that in this role, I can work from within on the change-process but I’m likely kidding myself. I barely have a voice in the organisation I work in, let alone in the wider sector.

Maybe one day..


I’d be interested in other peoples’ opinions though – what would your advice be to someone starting out on their first job post-qualification?

(and if the person who asked is still around – I’d also recommend checking out the Carespace Forum from Community Care…you can never have too much advice!).

*(Apologies to Robert Frost)

6 thoughts on “*The Road Not Taken

  1. My advice, find a job you like and don’t worry which sector it’s in. Each has it’s ups and downs. I did a practicum with a ACT team in mental health. Totally government funded, non voluntary services. I LOVED it. I loved the structure and the fact that it was actually well run. I did a practicum in non profit at a very voluntary place. I LOVED it. I loved the freedom, the lack of crazy beurocracy. Right now I work in a place that is government funded but not run by the government, and that’s pretty great too. We get money from all levels of government, and our run by a board of directors. It’s great.

    I think the important thing, is finding a job you like. I was so stressed about that when I was looking for work, and I wish I hadn’t been. Someday I really do hope to work in mental health for government again, but that’ll come.

  2. (Going to be seriously annoying, but it’s Robert Frost. Sorry, utterly no other useful perspectives)

  3. hehe.. pre-work and sleepy brain. I did know that really, I swear but the correction will have to come when I get home. All can attest to my lack of literary knowledge 😉

  4. I worked pre-qualification in the voluntary sector. Post-qualifying I chose the statutory sector because i saw how oppressive it was and wanted to change it from inside (talk about grandiosity!) …25 years later I can report that, in my experience, that’s a pipe-dream.
    I come from the generic era ((the loss of genericism is one of my soap-boxes) but from the mid-90s worked in mental health. I’m now a part-time Practice co-ordinator- assessor and ASW. In between I’ve worked in vol orgs and founded a development trust inthe area in which I live. Those have been frankly far more productive, useful and – yes – rewarding than any (bar two) pieces of work I’ve ever done in local authority social work.
    I do know what you mean about the money though. It’s a honey-trap.

    The other thing to consider is the power and status that come from an LA social work role. As an ASW I have the power of a police constable once I’ve signed section papers. Childcare workers do advise upon the legal boundaries to be set around relationaships between parents and their children. How insidiously inviting is the control element of statutory work?

  5. I think in the US it may be a little bit different. Once I finished my MSW I worked in the non-profit sector for awhile. It was good in that I got some experience that would have been difficult to come by in the government sector, but bad because of the pay and benefits. I had incurred a fairly big debt to pay for my Master Degree and had to take a job with the state to make enough money. Now, I’m working for a hospital and the pay is better than the state but the medical insurance isn’t as good. The other benefit with working for the state or other bigger organization is that they will pay for the supervision necessary to get your license. To pay for that out-of-pocket is anywhere from $6,000 to $8,000. Many of the smaller, non-profit agencies just aren’t able to provide that kind of benefit. But, like you said, now making the salary I do, I don’t think I could go back and work for a small, non-profit agency. It’s all a trade-off.

  6. Thanks all for the input, lily and amy! I am still undecided myself but lots of heads are better than one.. I still have vague hopes of one day going back to the non-profit sector.. it’s useful to have the different views!

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