Recent University of Birmingham BA (Hons) Social Work graduate Omar Mohamed now works with Children and Families in the statutory sector. Omar is the Director of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) New Social Workers Project, researching the experiences of new social workers transitioning from education to employment across Europe. He talks to Social Policy Matters about why he chose social work as a profession, how his lived experience of social work influences his own practice, and how leading the IFSW project has broadened his insight into the needs of new social workers in Europe and beyond.
“I chose to go into social work at the age of 13.”
I experienced social work and social workers for the first sixteen years of my life, and many of those experiences were negative. I wanted to be the difference. I use my lived experience to better understand the privileged role of a social worker; the failures I have endured give me a determination to help others.
Despite the unfavourable media attention on social work, I was drawn to the idea of a role where I could promote social justice, human rights, equality and equity. These concepts resonated with my personal values, and I wanted to be in a fulfilling and rewarding profession.
Studying social work hasn’t been easy, but my passion for the subject has carried me through the degree, and I feel happy and fulfilled. I’m also a sibling carer for my younger sister. Most of my time outside studying is dedicated to my sister and activism, and in the future, my goals are to travel more and experience social work on an international scale.
Learning to lead on social work projects
I came to be involved in the IFSW project through a social work leader named Siobhan Maclean, who I connected with through Twitter. She supported me to firstly represent new and young social workers in the IFSW Global Conference, which reached around 40,000 social workers internationally. The IFSW Europe President saw how passionate I was about this work, recognised my leadership skills, and asked me to lead the project.
Before this, I led projects on supporting Social Work England to better engage with issues around racism and promoting anti-racism in social work education and training in England, as well as engaging with LGBTQ+ people and their experiences of social work from the lens of experts by experience, students, academics, and practitioners. Through leading all these projects, I’ve learned the significance of time management, partnership working, and self-care. Time management has been important in keeping the projects effective and measuring outcomes. This has all been done through partnership working; to me, leadership is collaborative, and activism is always collective.
Self-care has been an unexpected and unplanned learning curve, as caring for my sister, working multiple jobs, volunteering, and being a full-time student alongside these projects has been a challenge, but this has all been overcome through learning to say no to work that would overload me, and working together with other passionate and likeminded people.
If you’re feeling nervous about making a presentation, my advice would be to speak even when your voice shakes, reflect on why you are nervous, and be proud of how much you care. Ground yourself with the fact that you are speaking for a reason. Your voice matters!Omar Mohamed
Presenting to large audiences at international conferences has been interesting and exciting
Growing up in London, I never realised how fast I was used to talking! Learning how to present at international conferences has been a journey, and now I carefully consider the pace and tone of my voice to ensure I'm speaking clearly and using plain English language.
My first presentations were within my degree, and when these were in-person, I was extremely anxious. I would stutter, tripping over words with a shaky voice. However, these experiences continued and each time, I was able to develop my public speaking skills. Now, having presented to conferences of thousands, I’m comfortable with my voice still shaking occasionally; it's important to speak up even when your voice shakes, as the message can still be made clear. The nerves I feel reflect how much I care. Keeping this in mind gives me comfort and a sense of drive.
What can we learn from new social workers across Europe?
The IFSW project seeks to improve new social workers’ transitions using data gathered from 31 European countries, involving nearly 1,000 new social workers. Working alongside a group of new social workers, all of whom are knowledgeable and kind, has really helped me to develop personal resilience. The whole project has felt like a team effort where we provide support for each other. Together, we’ve researched issues that we have experienced both collectively and personally. Coming from England, I recognise that I’m in a privileged position, whereas other people in the group—from places like Armenia and Georgia—are working and training through political conflict and war.
Social work is contextually and culturally diverse. Recommendations for improvement need to be grounded in these local contexts. In the UK, we have a lot to improve on and can learn from the findings of this project.
What do new social workers need to succeed?
I’m just beginning to experience the transition to work, so I bring a unique and informed perspective. Others on the project are at different stages in their careers, and together, we have mapped a rich and detailed exploration of new social workers’ needs.
New social workers need support from everyone involved in the transition from education to employment. This includes new social workers themselves actively taking a role through peer support and intervision (peer coaching). Experienced social workers already in employment should mentor and provide guidance to new social workers, as well as their international and national federations and associations.
Omar invites you to follow his social work journey on Twitter at @OmarMohamedSW.