How to be a social worker in the United Kingdom

trabajador social
Photo: British Columbia

This article is especially for everyone who has gone to work in this field in the United Kingdom after studying or training in another country.

First of all, something that helped me was getting to know the British public health system as well as possible. Although in some cases the system depends on the region you wish to work in (Northern Ireland, England, Wales, or Scotland), the organizational system is similar. It’s essential to know about services, benefits, resources, and the public health system in order to make good use of them, whether you’re working in processing or management, or applying for something. The United Kingdom has one of the fussiest systems when it comes to providing services to the people, so it would be a good idea to keep yourself updated about them. For those of you who want to work in Bristol, I’ve found the city council page to be a good source of resources. I’ll leave you with a few links for different cities as examples, but Google can help you with other destinations:

I first started working here as a social worker for Action for Children, one of the farthest-reaching organizations in the United Kingdom, and where they tackle a number of problems to do with minors: for example addictions, autism, disability, adoption, foster care, intervening in family problems, etc. Throughout this article, I’ll continue to give you links that I hope you’ll find very useful.

Since working in this field requires prior registration with the institution, the first bureaucratic step to take would be to register as a social worker with the Health and Professions Care Council. The HCPC is the regulatory body for England and Wales (the SSSC in Scotland) that ensures the minimum standards for each public health-related profession are met by all professionals. Of course, those who want to work in other regions will find the equivalent organizations and register in a similar way. More information on registration: obviously you need to register as a social worker who comes from abroad (but still from the European Union). If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact them; they helped me quite a lot (remember that in the UK they only answer your first question ;)).

To register with the HCPC you need to have your certification translated by a sworn translator and ask for your university to complete an information form about the things you learned during your degree. There’s another way of doing this, through the NARIC. I’ll leave you with the link below, though I personally didn’t go this route.

Most of the work related to social work is managed by agencies, so it would be useful to learn about these agencies and register with one that meets your needs. Some of them will also help you with your CV when the time comes to work on it, suggesting essential keywords that will make you seem like a strong candidate on an application. Secondly, most of the work in the public health sector is managed by specialized agencies, which is why I recommend you make a long list of available agencies and – here’s the hard part – register with all of them so they send you offers as soon as possible and you can apply to jobs with just one click. Here are some very useful ones:

Thirdly, to practice your profession in the United Kingdom, you’ll need to show you have prior experience.  In spite of what you may have been told, work experience in other places in Europe is just as valid, although obviously if you’re going to work with another language, it’s important to prove your excellent communication abilities and know how to sell your experience in other countries. They are, of course, going to ask you for references that confirm you’ve had these experiences, which is why I recommend you get in touch with your old bosses and let them know about your plans, in order to facilitate the process and improve your chances of success. For both the HCPC registration and any job you apply for, they’ll ask you for references for all previous experience; so if you aren’t able to prove it, it’s better not to mention it. At any rate, for those who haven’t worked yet, don’t worry: there are also job offers for “newly qualified social workers”. It’s also important to prioritize “where am I going to work” over “what am I going to do”, because if you’re able to work for a big organization in hospice care or even personal care, opportunities for promotion will be much higher than if you are coming directly from the service industries or another sector unrelated to social work.

I’d also like to briefly mention volunteer work. After having a bad experience elsewhere, many people might not think much of volunteering, but in the United Kingdom it works differently. Organizations and businesses see volunteering as work experience comparable to a paid job, which is why volunteering will get you points when the time comes to find employment. In my case this was actually the key that finally opened the way for me to doing social work in England.

I should also highlight the importance of a good CV and a strong cover letter. There are agencies that specialize in creating these and do a good job, though if you look on the Internet (and have time and not much money, like I do) you can end up with a good final product on your own. It’s important to know the keywords that improve your CV, which depend on the area you wish to work in as well as how you need to adapt your experience and abilities for English terminology: a literal translation will make you look bad. Here’s a link that was very useful to me when I was looking for work:

Another question that always comes up is whether you should keep studying or training in the UK, whether you’re working as a social worker or not. I advise you to do it: it’ll give you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the vocabulary of your sector and meet people who currently work in it. You would also be trained in the UK, which makes your communication skills and knowledge about the sector look better to the interviewer. I personally think National Vocational Qualifications are very useful, as social workers, area managers, and people in higher positions are often asked to have them.

Finally, to close this article, I encourage you to take the leap and start your career as a social worker in the United Kingdom. It’s a great opportunity to develop professionally, learn about a well-regulated public health system, and add to your CV for the future!

If you have any questions or experience you want to share, leave a comment. I’ll do all I can to help out. This was my experience and, of course, it’s not going to be the same for everyone. And remember, all these steps can only be useful when accompanied by effort and patience.

That’s all for now, UKisters!

Original article written by Alberto Barrios Florez

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