Being a social worker involves working with complexity, taking difficult decisions and making a positive difference in challenging circumstances. Hardly surprisingly, these skills are at a premium in a range of roles and sectors – and social workers contribute above and beyond their own immediate profession.
For example, at the University of Birmingham, the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Social Sciences Saul Becker and the Head of the School of Social Policy Jon Glasby are both qualified social workers by background – using their social work skills to make a practical difference in terms of academic leadership, research, teaching, policy advice and practice.
Saul re-joined the University of Birmingham in August 2014, having been Professor of Social Care and Health in the city between 2004 and 2006. In between times, he held the position of Assistant Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Internationalisation and Director of Research for the Faculty of Social Sciences at University of Nottingham. This followed five years as Head of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work at the same institution. In addition to his academic background he is a qualified social worker and spent six years working in Nottingham with children and families and in welfare rights.
That experience helped shape his understanding of the realities of everyday life for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in society, and informed his future research interests, styles of working with people, and how he ‘gets things done’. His research expertise is around young carers, beginning this programme of research in 1992 and writing hundreds of publications and conference papers on this topic, many of which have helped to inform understanding and policy for this group of children and young people in the UK and internationally.
Birmingham is one of a handful of universities that contributed to a recent Carers Trust publication, Supporting Students with Caring Responsibilities (Ideas and Practice for Universities to Help Support Carers Access and Succeed in Higher Education), that will assist universities to identify and support students who are also carers.
As Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of College, Saul has responsibility for over 350 members of academic staff, 8,000 students and 42,000 alumni representing more than 185 countries - from disciplines including education, business, politics, economics, international development and local government studies. He is also responsible for the University’s civic engagement, overseeing a series of policy commissions on topics ranging from the future of public service to the role of nuclear power, supporting the Birmingham branch of Citizens’ UK and ensuring that the university plays a key role in future regional devolution.
Jon Glasby trained as a social worker in Birmingham and later moved to the University’s Health Services Management Centre (HSMC) – of which he was Director from 2008 to 2015. Specialising in joint work between health and social care, Jon is involved in regular policy analysis and advice to central government, is an NHS Non-Executive Director and has been a trustee of the UK Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE).
He has previously been involved with policy advice to the NHS Future Forum, the Ministerial Working Group on Health and Social Care Integration and the policy teams responsible for the development of personal health budgets, the 2007 framework for commissioning for health and well-being, the 2006 NHS White Paper and the 2005 social care Green Paper. His work with Downing Street on the future reform and costs of adult social care was launched by the former Prime Minister and appeared in outlets such as BBC News, the New York Times and The Financial Times. Jon has also been a regular contributor to practice-based publications such as Community Care, and is the author of numerous articles and textbooks on health and social care.
As HSMC Director, Jon helped design and deliver national senior leadership development programmes (the Nye Bevan and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson programmes) on behalf of the NHS Leadership Academy. This is believed to represent the largest single leadership development investment in the history of the NHS, helping to equip a new generation of NHS leaders with the values, skills and behaviours needed to respond to future challenges and opportunities facing the health service.
During Jon’s Directorship, HSMC also celebrated 15 consecutive years of providing the educational component of the NHS Management Training Scheme (1999-2014), the multiple-award winning fast-track graduate scheme for future NHS leaders. Jon is currently Head of the School of Social Policy, responsible for the University’s work around topics such as health service management, social work, social policy, working with the third sector, poverty, migration and family policy.
For Jon, training as a social worker helped to better understand the complexity and diversity of a city like Birmingham, ensuring that his subsequent research, teaching and policy advice remains grounded in reality and tries to do justice to some of the amazing people he met as a trainee. So much academia can feel too distant from the topics it is studying and training as a social worker means that all the skills and experience of a university like Birmingham can be focused on making a practical difference in the real world.
For both Saul and Jon, social work taught them so much about themselves, other people and the world around them – and neither could do their current jobs without social work skills and experience.