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READINESS FOR PRACTICE OF NEWLY QUALIFIED SOCIAL WORKERS: EXPERIENCES OF SUPERVISORS AT SOCIAL SERVICE ORGANISATIONS IN THE WESTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA
The readiness of newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) for practice appears to be a growing area of research, however, there is little focus on the professional identities of NQSWs, and a lack of relevant literature on the readiness of NQSWs within a South African context. Global research indicates that NQSWs are being prepared in some skills and competencies, however, that they do lack skills and competencies in other regards. Readiness is a concept that is interpreted differently amongst various entities, and thus, it is impossible to satisfy all individuals’ expectations as to what constitutes an NQSW that is ready for practice. NQSWs enter a difficult working environment and experience stress and anxiety as they are new in the profession, posing additional needs and challenges when they are not fully ready for practice. Supervisors are in an ideal position to identify how NQSWs handle this transition into the workplace and whether there are specific tasks or challenges that they struggle with when entering practice. With little insight into this phenomenon within the South African context, it is difficult to understand how NQSWs can be better prepared and assisted in transitioning from being a student to a professional and enhancing their readiness for practice. In light of this, the researcher’s study aimed to gain an understanding of supervisors’ experiences of newly qualified social workers’ readiness for practice at social service organisations in the Western Cape, South Africa.
This research followed a qualitative approach with the intent of obtaining insight and understanding into the experiences of social work supervisors on the readiness of NQSWs for practice. Descriptive and exploratory research designs were employed to gain a deeper understanding into the subjective experiences of social work supervisors on the readiness of NQSWs for practice, as there is a lack of research on this topic within a South African context. Social work supervisors as research participants were recruited through both purposive and snowball sampling methods. Fifteen participants were interviewed for this study with the researcher utilising semi-structured interviews via telephonic phone calls when collecting data. The researcher utilised a thematic content analysis approach when analysing the data that was collected during the interviews. Within this research, there are two literature chapters. The first chapter described and explained the global and local context of NQSWs within the realm of the developmental theory of professional identity. The second literature chapter analysed contemporary international and South African research on the readiness (both covert and overt) of NQSWs for practice. These chapters provided the foundation for chapter four which Stellenbosch University https://scholar.sun.ac.za ii presented the empirical study. Within this, the researcher presented the data that was collected from research participants and analysed their relative narratives against existing global and local research. These results enabled the researcher to draw relevant conclusions and recommendations which were presented in chapter five of this research. The main conclusions that the researcher was able to deduce from the findings was that readiness is a concept understood differently and thus an NQSW will never be seen as ‘ready’ by all individuals in society, due to their variations in perceptiveness as to what constitutes as ‘ready’. As a result, supervisors deem different competencies as necessary for NQSWs to have when entering practice. NQSWs appear to both have, and lack, specific competencies dependent on the Higher Education Institution (HEI) that they attended and, as a consequence, which competencies they focused on enhancing throughout their social work training. Specialised supervision can enhance NQSWs’ readiness for practice and enable them to transition better into the profession, however, supervisors are not always able to provide this more intensive and supportive style of supervision to NQSWs due to their own workloads. HEIs are not preparing NQSWs sufficiently for the realities of practice. Consequently, vast differences in the social work training offered at HEIs are observed in South Africa - supervisors are aware of these differences, which influence their decision as to whether they would employ an NQSW. Ensuring the readiness of NQSWs for practice should, however, not only be the responsibility of one sole entity, but rather, should consist of a collaborative approach shared amongst HEIs, supervisors, social service organisations, social work governing and statutory organisations and NQSWs.