Evaluating the Experiences of Social Work Graduates Over Time: Findings from an Exit Survey of Final Year Students

David Hayes, Audrey Roulston, Jana Ross, Lorna Montgomery, Denise MacDermott, McFadden Paula, Shirley Boyle

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


There are many reasons people feel motivated to train as social workers. A study involving 240 social work students across Ireland (McCartan et al., 2020) reported that 86.3% were motivated by ‘wanting to help people’ with 66.4% wanting to ‘overcome oppression’. Hackett et al. (2003) found that social work university students in four European countries felt committed or politically motivated. Ferguson et al. (2018) found students wanted to promote social justice. Others suggest that career motivation is influenced by life experience, family background, personal needs, and beliefs (Stevens et al., 2012; Wilson and McCrystal, 2007). Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed its profound impact in terms of education, politics, society, the environment, the economy and the health and social care sector. Prior to this, UK health and social care professionals were categorised as a high-risk group for developing mental health related problems (McFadden et al., 2021a). Therefore, as the pandemic developed, this has increased the job demands, burnout and stressors of the health and social care profession (McFadden et al, 2021b).

According to the Draft Social Work Workforce Review (Northern Ireland, 2021) there have been 260 commissioned places for social work training in Northern Ireland for just under 10 years. However, the supply of suitably qualified social workers has reduced, and the demand for social workers has increased, with many social workers choosing employment via recruitment agencies, at the cost of permanent posts across the statutory, voluntary and independent sectors.

Messages from the Health and Social Care Workforce Strategy 2026 (published in 2018) acknowledge recruitment difficulties and the need for flexible working patterns. Regional recruitment into social work posts across Northern Ireland has been challenging for the past number of years. This has resulted in increased expenditure on agency staff, causing additional pressure on the Health and Social Care budget, has created instability for teams and has a demoralising impact on the permanent workforce. Factual information is needed from student social workers, preparing to graduate and in the early stages of their social work career, regarding basic demographic data, levels of motivation to practice social work, and preferences or specific needs regarding employment. Given the concerns regarding well-being and resilience within the profession, further information is needed to capture changes in the early stages of a social worker’s career.

This paper will outline the findings of the first phase of a longitudinal study aimed at improving understanding of how the circumstances of student social workers change in the first 18 months after graduation. The paper presents findings from Time 1 (immediately prior to graduation) and presents data on satisfaction with social work training, motivation, well-being, resilience and employment preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted - 22 Dec 2022
Event12th European Conference for Social Work Research - Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy
Duration: 12 Apr 202314 Apr 2023


Conference12th European Conference for Social Work Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Evaluating the Experiences of Social Work Graduates Over Time: Findings from an Exit Survey of Final Year Students'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this