For more than 10 years, the University of Waikato social work programme in Tauranga has upheld a strong reputation for producing highly employable social worker practitioners. Now, with added pressure on social services in the wake of the Covid-19 disruption, the sector is crying out for more graduates and the University is keen to keep up with the demand.
“Our field education coordinator has seen an increase in requests from social service providers wanting students to come to them for their field education experience and the academic team has seen an increase in employers seeking social work graduates to employ,” says Social Work Programme Convenor and Senior Lecturer, Kelly Glubb-Smith. “With the long-term social impacts of Covid yet to be fully realised, we can only anticipate that qualified social workers will continue to be in demand for some time yet.”
This week (Thursday 1 October), the University of Waikato will host a Social Work Information Evening from 5.30pm-7.30pm at the Tauranga campus to help prospective students better understand the opportunities available in terms of study and career pathways. Staff, current students, recent graduates and student ambassadors will be available to provide information on qualifications, study options, entry requirements, scholarships and life at the Tauranga campus.
Canadian-born Yasmin Awan graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work with First Class Honours in 2018 and landed her dream job as a health social worker at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board. As guest speaker at Thursday’s event, Yasmin will talk about her role with the DHB and share the reasons she chose to return to study as a mature student.
“Personal life experience fuelled the fire within me to try to effect some change, and becoming a social worker has helped me do that,” says Yasmin.
Current students will be on hand to answer questions about their personal experiences of the programme. Khey-Jhyn Martin is in her final year and was eager to support the kaupapa of the event.
A long-held desire to follow in her uncle’s footsteps influenced Taranaki-born Khey-Jhyn’s decision to study social work. Five years on, with job offers from both her social work placements, the 22-year-old says of Ngā Rauru descent says it was the best decision she could have made – even if she had an unusual start to her study journey.
“My Uncle Eli started studying at Waikato the year I was born,” she says. “He was the first in all my whānau to get a degree. He had his own wall in our homestead in Waverley where his graduation photo and science degree were hung up. I used to be cheeky and ask my Nan why I couldn’t have my photo on the wall and she always said to me, ‘You have to do something special to get up on the wall’. I remember wanting my photo on that wall so bad.”
By the time the New Plymouth Girls’ High School student’s college days were nearing an end, her goal to find that ‘something special’ was starting to look out of reach. That was until she joined her mates on a bus trip bound for the University of Waikato Open Day.
"It was my uncle’s old uni so I was interested but, honestly, it was more to have a day off school,” she admits. “I found out about social work almost by accident.”
Fifteen minutes shy of boarding the bus back to Taranaki, Khey-Jhyn poked her head into the Bachelor of Social Work breakout room. An exercise highlighting social justice got her attention, so she joined in.
“The first thing I remember is the lecturer, Simon Lowe, saying if you’re not willing to move to Tauranga then this degree isn’t for you, since it’s only taught at the Tauranga campus. My uncle lived in Mount Maunganui so I carried on listening. By the time I jumped back on the bus I knew I’d be making an application as soon as I got home.”
Not gaining University Entrance could’ve put a halt to Khey-Jhyn’s plan to attend Waikato, but the teenager was determined. She moved to Hamilton for a semester, completed a Certificate of University Preparation (CUP) Programme to prepare herself for tertiary study and started the Bachelor of Social Work the following semester in Tauranga.
“I guess, statistically, the odds were stacked against me,” she muses. “A young Māori woman with no UE, moving to a new town, a teenage sweetheart back home… I could’ve easily given up and gone back to Taranaki.”
But she didn’t. Instead she worked hard, built great relationships with her social work classmates and gained the respect of her lecturers. Khey-Jhyn doesn’t sugar coat the intensity of the workload though.
“It was hard mahi. It’s a long degree and it needs to be. It naturally selects the people who will make good social workers. This programme prepares students really well for placement.”
Khey-Jhyn is currently a facilitator of the Mates and Dates programme in the Bay of Plenty and starts her new role as a graduate social worker with Tautoko Mai – Sexual Harm Support next month.
She recommends the social work programme wholeheartedly but thinks long and hard before listing the attributes that a would-be social work student would need to see the four-year degree through.
“You have to have a passion for people, you need to be resilient and persevere because you’re dealing with confronting and often negative issues. Once you get through that, there is so much beauty at the end of it. And, know your ‘why’. My ‘why’ was my whānau - they were always there cheering from the side lines and supporting me unconditionally. That’s what motivated me to stick with it.”
Along with the rest of the Waikato social work team, senior tutor Leisa Moorhouse encourages anyone who wants to make a positive difference in the lives of others to come along and see where a Waikato social work degree can take them.
“As staff, we care about the future of the social work profession, we have a strong belief in the contribution that Waikato social work students can make in the community and there is a commitment to growing competent social work kaimahi (workers). Whether you’re a school leaver, already in a helping profession or active in your community and want to effect change to help our most vulnerable, we invite you to come and see whether social work is for you.”
The Social Work Information Evening will be held on Thursday 1 October from 5.30pm-7.30pm in Te Manawaroa, Level 1 of the University of Waikato Tauranga campus, 101 Durham Street. For more information, visit the Facebook event.