Enhancing Careers in Social Work through Integrated Degree Apprenticeship

The University of Sunderland are hosting a Get into Social Work and Community and Youth Work event, providing an exclusive opportunity to explore dynamic career paths in social work and its closely aligned profession of community and youth work.

Former apprentice Sheryl Johnson studied an Integrated Degree Apprenticeship in Social Work at the University – and the programme proved life-changing, not just for Sheryl but the community she now serves. 

Having been inspired by the gruelling hospital treatment she received throughout her childhood, Sheryl initially had her sights set on becoming a doctor. 

However, despite top A-level grades after finishing sixth form, Sheryl, who lives with cystic fibrosis, arthritis, and Type 1 diabetes, had a change of heart, wanted to earn money and opted to go straight into work.

She began a job with Durham County Council in 2008 as a social work assistant, on the Disabled Children’s team. The plan was to stay just a couple of years, but by 2013 she had moved up the ranks, becoming a reviewing officer in Darlington.

Building her skills and knowledge, her work became so aligned to a fully trained social worker that her manager put her forward for the Integrated Degree Apprenticeship in Social Work at Sunderland where she could achieve the necessary qualifications.

And, after three years of juggling full-time work with study, alongside daily physiotherapy treatment, monthly hospital appointments, insulin injections, anti-biotics injected into a port-a-cath in her chest, and managing retinopathy, a complication of the eye due to diabetes, she graduated with a First-Class degree in 2022.

As a result of a University placement in her final year, Sheryl landed a full time job as a social worker for the Looked After Children team with Darlington Borough Council.

“I absolutely love my role,” Sheryl, 35, from County Durham, said. 

“It is hard work and stressful at times, but the direct work with the children and being part of the amazing things they achieve day after day, with our support, makes it all worthwhile.”

Shortly after starting her new role, Sheryl hit the books once again to study a Master’s degree in Inequality and Society at the University, which she completed in September 2023, graduating with a distinction. 

On why she would recommend studying the Social Work Apprenticeship at Sunderland, Sheryl, said: “I feel this is the best route into social work because apprentices already have hands on experience of social care as well as the underpinning values, knowledge and skills to become a social worker – nothing is too much of a surprise.

“That said, what the apprenticeship did give me was the knowledge, understanding and importance of research, theory and reflection and how to apply these in practice. Throughout the apprenticeship, I always had support available from both the University and my employer which made me feel valued and I felt it significantly contributed in preparing me for my career in social work. 

“The combination of social work experience as an unqualified worker alongside the academic teaching, placements and support within the apprenticeship, gave me the perfect cocktail of experience, knowledge and skills to succeed in my career as a social worker and I would not hesitate to recommend this route to anyone.”

Sheryl, whose long term goal is to eventually teach social work, believes apprenticeships are crucial in developing skilled social workers. 

She said: “In my opinion, being a good social worker requires both life experience and work experience, as this combination supports us to understand the aspects of difference within society which contribute to inequality and vulnerability. 

“In understanding these differences, social workers are able to work with people to empower them to achieve social change, development and cohesion. The apprenticeship route reflects this combination of life and work experience, developing skilled social workers who will go on to make positive change.”

Sheryl admits that the first year of the degree was a challenge, but by her second year, she’d found her stride.

So, what is Sheryl’s advice to anyone thinking of studying a Social Work Apprenticeship?

“You need to be committed not only to doing your job but to also coming home and working on your assignments,” she said.

“It is three years of hard work, but it is definitely worth it. The apprenticeship has not only given me a qualification to practice as a social worker and the privilege to be part of so many children's journeys, but it has also made me a better person and opened so many doors for which I will be forever grateful.”

If you want to find out more about Social Work or the Community and Youth Work Apprenticeships, come along to our Get Into Social Work event on Monday 11th March and discover exciting apprenticeship options that can shape your future in these rewarding fields.

Register your place here


This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by University of Sunderland .

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