Social work: what is relevant experience?

Ruth, learning Disability nurse

"Relevant experience is a condition of entry onto all social work degrees in Wales," says Judith Badmington Fowler, senior lecturer in social work.

"If you've decided on a career in social work, start your planning as early as possible.

At USW we ask for 420 hours of relevant social care experience, ideally by the time you apply (see entry requirements for more information).

This experience will not only give you an invaluable insight into the nature of social care and the role of a social worker (and the challenges they face), but also help you decide whether social work is a career you really want to pursue."

Where to get relevant experience

There are a variety of areas in which you can gain paid or unpaid experience in statutory, third sector or independent sector agencies within the field of social care.

  • Examples could include experience of working with children and families (in social care settings settings such as Flying Start, Local Authority Child and Families teams, Action for Children, Barnardos, and residential homes.

  • Experience of working with adults (in social care settings/agencies such as Local Authority Adult Teams, supported accommodation, residential/nursing homes; charities working with individuals with disabilities; domestic violence charities, homelessness services and substance misuse provision).

  • Experience in counselling settings or working on a one-to-one basis within youth and community work settings would also be relevant.

  • Experience within education settings could be appropriate where this role relates to direct work with children with special needs as opposed to working in main stream education and/or nurseries/creches.

Make the most of it

Once you've secured appropriate work experience it is important to make the most of the opportunity.

We recommend you keep a reflective diary so that you can note what you learned from your experience. If you are successful in gaining an interview for the social work degree, you will be more able to demonstrate your understanding of social care and the social work role and how your specific experience relates to this.

Current students: how they approached it

Danielle, (pictured) a first year student, said: "Once I had decided to apply for the Social Work course I spent my time researching what I needed to do to get my application noticed.

I knew that I would need to complete 420 hours of work experience in a social care setting and realised that my school-based experience would not be enough. I had always had an interest in Autism so I applied to the National Autistic Society as a support worker in their adult day services.

I was lucky that I was able to complete the 420 hours as part of a paid contract but they also offer many volunteer placements across their different services. Finding a place to volunteer is pretty easy if you use websites such as do-it.org or contact local charities.

My advice would be to make sure you choose something you’re interested in as you will be spending a lot of time there. The more interested you are in your role, the more questions you will ask and the more knowledge of social care you will bring to your university interview.

I cannot stress how much completing the 420 hours helped me understand the social care and social work sector more. I began to understand how important it is to listen to service users and to ensure they are the centre of everything we do.”

Hannah, a final year student, said: "Before starting the social work course, I worked as a support worker within the private social care sector working with adults who had sustained a brain injury and adults who were on the autistic spectrum.

I also took on a voluntary role with a local autism charity that supports young people and adults with autism in respect of advocacy, community participation, education, employment and training. I was able to support a community fundraising project which transpired to be a great talking point within my interview.

Looking back the only thing I would do differently would be to try and gain employment within the statutory sector. I am entering the third year of my social work training and this is the first time I am entering into a statutory setting.

Whilst I feel fully supported by my practice assessor and the university I feel I would benefit from having a previous grounding in statutory processes and procedures."

William, a second year student, said: "I decided to gather my hours through volunteering as this would allow me to have an insight into different organisations and service users. The first organisation I contacted was the Alzheimer’s Society; I volunteered in their day centre, and became a 'Side by Side' volunteer. I also volunteered with Cardiff Youth Service.

Dividing my time between these two different services gave me an insight into the needs of different service users and their different backgrounds and experiences. This provided me with valuable experience and knowledge for the interview, and for the social work course."

Useful links

Find out more