UOW gets behind demand for social workers

Tauranga social worker Ruby Bishara. Photo: Supplied.

The University of Waikato says the social work sector is “crying out for more graduates” as it faces added pressure in the wake of COVID-19, and the academic institution is keen to help keep up with the demand.

Social Work Programme convenor Kelly Glubb-Smith says thier field education coordinator has seen an increase in requests from social service providers wanting students to come to them for their field education experience. 

The academic team has seen an increase in employers seeking social work graduates to employ.

“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.”

Tomorrow evening they 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.

Tauranga social worker and UOW graduate Ruby Bishara is telling her story to encourage more people to take up the profession.

Ruby, who works as a social worker at Te Runanga O Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi, says her degree has opened up career oppurtunities and set her on a path for lifelong learning.

With varied experience including fitness instructing, support work and supervising afterschool and holiday programmes, Ruby was already highly employable but she wanted to aim higher.

Of Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Te Rangi descent, Ruby says her drive to be a social worker was to honour what her parents wanted for her and her four siblings.

“My whānau are all in helping professions and do a lot for our hapū and iwi. I saw social work as a way to make sure people’s voices are heard and recognised the opportunity for me to highlight whānau voice.”

Originally from Masterton, Ruby lived in Whangarei for many years before moving to Mount Maunganui in 2012. She’d heard good things about the University of Waikato and the credibility of its social work programme in Tauranga, so she enrolled in the four-year degree.

Ruby says along with the connections you make, the highlight of the programme is the placements where students get to put theory into practice.

Her first placement was at ImpacTauranga in Brookfield, a non-profit organisation operated through the Tauranga Christian Community Trust. Her second was with Pacific Health Community Mental Health Services in Whakatāne.

“One of my lecturers, Albert, said that social work theories will make sense and when I went on placement the penny dropped and I understood where theories fit into social work practice and how you apply them.”

Since graduating, Ruby has had roles in the Bay of Plenty with Oranga Tamariki Ministry for Children, Family Works and Ngā Mataapuna Oranga PHO.

 She started a new job in July as a senior practitioner with Te Runanga O Ngāi Te Rangi Iwi Trust in Tauawhia, a service that embraces whānau experiencing homelessness to support them and increase their skills to maintain and sustain a home.

“We support our whānau to improve their housing stability. However, we must not forget that our whānau have the knowledge, we know this because their Tupuna have taught them, we are simply there to remind them and help bring the knowledge back,” she says.

For the past year, Ruby has juggled more study around her work. She’s a few weeks shy of completing her second tertiary qualification, Kaitiakitanga: Postgraduate Diploma in Bicultural Professional Supervision from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

The course has helped Ruby to develop her own model of practice which incorporates principles of Te Ao Māori.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. However, I believe that when I develop the practice, it is not mine to keep but for others to use. During the course we had to rangahau our pūrākau (tell the story of our research). The pūrākau of our whānau, hapū and iwi is Waiata. My Mum helped me understand that Waiata is much more than singing. From generation to generation, teaching is done through Waiata and principles are passed down as whānau sing together. Some of these principles have informed my model of social work practice.”

Next year, Ruby plans to pursue a Master of Indigenous Studies with the long-term goal of holding a management role in an organisation.

 “Going to university taught me so much but, most importantly, it taught me to aspire, to dream. As social workers, we can aspire to be anything. Now I aspire higher in everything I do.”

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