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“A few months ago, I was at a juncture in my career.

Having moved from agency job to agency job, I had finally applied for a permanent position and had been offered it. Before I signed on the dotted line, however, I’d seen a better job with more money, in a neighbouring authority.

I was torn.

Should I give up the chance of a permanent job, take a chance or should I stick with the freedom and flexibility that agency work gave me?

I couldn’t ask my manager obviously, nor could I ask my partner who doesn’t work in the public sector and has no idea about different roles. I couldn’t ask my colleagues because I didn’t know them well enough.

What I needed was a mentor. A professional guide.

Someone I trusted, who could share their knowledge of resources and other employers. Someone to give me some objective advice. Someone who knew enough about my job and me to give me sound advice, put me out of my comfort zone but at the same time enable me to flourish professionally and personally.

I didn’t want much did I?

When I first started in social work, two decades years ago, I received supervision from an older social worker.

She supported me, told me bluntly when I’d not done a good job and generally pointed me in the right direction. As well as clinical supervision, she also gave me career advice and encouraged me to think about what inspired me. This wonderful woman never made any decisions for me but instead made suggestions about posts I might be interested in after my current one.

She persuaded me to attend training courses which I wouldn’t have otherwise have considered. One of those courses was ‘assertiveness skills’, probably the single most useful course I have ever attended but that’s a different story. By the time I left my post three years later, I was much more confident and knowledgeable, not just about my skills but about where I was going in my career.

Sadly, when I left that post I lost my mentor too because she retired soon afterwards.

I attended a student recruitment fair recently and noticed that only one or two employers offer a mentor-service for newly qualified staff. I’ve been qualified for nearly 30 years and I still miss a mentor.

Sure, I have colleagues and good friend to moan with, but a mentor is different. They’re not a friend. They’re not (usually) a colleague. Whilst mentoring is usually about offering support to a less experienced worker, usually a younger person just starting out on their career, I think it’s invaluable for those of us who’ve been around the block a bit too.

Mentoring could be key in retaining experienced staff; improving their self-worth, valuing their expertise and developing new skills.

Just because we’ve been doing the job for a long time, it doesn’t mean that a) we know it all or b) we don’t need a guiding hand every now and then.

I asked a colleague about this the other day and she referred to her Continuing Professional Development review. I’m sure we all have something similar, though it might be known by another term, but generally they’re a form of appraisal. Frequently they’re seen as a paperwork exercise to tick a few managerial boxes, and to make us do more for the same money. You know, take on a student, or attend a course. Ideally, they could also offer a mentoring-type of role too, but the reality is, they just don’t. This can be for a number of reasons; inexperienced managers, lack of trust between managers and staff or simply a lack of time.

So how does one find a mentor?

I’ve haven’t seen many formal mentoring services offered by local authorities or the NHS, so I’ll be finding my own.

When I started practice teaching years ago, the head of student placements was a great support, encouraging me to think laterally about my aspirations and my skills. In my current search I’ll think about my existing contacts, attending courses, speaking to people and making new connections.

I’ve previously found conferences and student fairs useful for networking and meeting other professionals.

I will raise it in my next supervision, and I’ll let you know how I get on.”

Why not join our Social Work Circle?

If you have a passion for social work and a flair for words, why not join our Social Work Circle? We are always looking for contributors to share their thoughts in our regular column – it doesn’t matter whether you are newly qualified or have over 30 years’ experience, if you’re keen to share your views, we want to hear from you!

All contributions will be classed as a CPD activity and we can provide you with a signed certificate for your portfolio regardless of whether you wish to write under your own name or anonymously.

All you have to do to get involved is let us know your name, job title, contact information and what you would like to write about. Simply email and we’ll be in touch!
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