How is the course structured?
In the first few semesters, students learn the basic terms of the discipline. They investigate the conditions under which poverty or racism develop, analyse social developments, and compile and evaluate data, for example. Besides exams and seminar work, the students ? among whom the proportion of women lies at 80 per cent ? must prove their knowledge in presentations or oral exams. They must sometimes prove their capabilities by presenting the results of a seminar or conducting practical projects. They put on theatre performances with young people, for example. In later semesters, students decide on a specialisation, whereby theory and practice is closely linked. For at least 100 days during the semester, students learn the practical side of the profession in social establishments, at associations or public authorities. Some courses include a practical semester; in others, the practical components are spread over the course. The universities support students in their search for a work placement. In many places, they can also spend the practical phases overseas. In some federal states, there is a so-called "recognition year" ("Anerkennungsjahr"). In these states, graduates are only deemed state-recognised social workers after having gained one year of work experience after completing their studies (dual phase model). In other federal states, the professional experience is already integrated into the course (single phase model). Students should inform themselves beforehand of the practical components of the individual courses. Anne Moseler is in the sixth semester of studying Social Work at Coburg University of Applied Sciences. In the second semester, she spent twelve weeks helping to develop stations for an adventure course, which should allow children in integrative classes (so classes comprising children both with and without disabilities) to learn to better understand one another. Children without a disability follow a special course wearing glasses that impair their vision, for example. After completing the Bachelor's degree, graduates can embark seamlessly on a career. "With the Master's degree, one also has the opportunity to qualify for managerial roles," says Ulrich Bartosch, Chairman of the Association of Social Workers (Fachbereichstag Soziale Arbeit ? FBTS) and a professor at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Those wishing to run an establishment such as a social services department or youth centre should obtain a Master's degree ? this is possible after gaining two years of professional experience, and can also be taken alongside one's career. Many universities also offer courses in Social Management during which Budget Planning, Marketing and Personnel Development are also studied (as is the case at the Protestant University of Dresden, Münster University of Applied Sciences, the Protestant University of Applied Science Nuremberg, Mittweida University of Applied Sciences, Kempton University of Applied Sciences and the University of Duisburg-Essen). Other Master's courses offer the opportunity to specialise. Options include Clinical Social Work for careers in hospitals (Coburg University of Applied Sciences, the Catholic University of Applied Sciences Berlin, and Alice Salomon University of Applied Sciences (ASH) Berlin), Social Work in Psychiatry (Munich University of Applied Sciences), and Social Informatics (Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt) during which databases and software packages are developed for social establishments.
The debate on abuse in ecclesial and progressive educational establishments has left its mark on the courses. "The issue is integrated into various aspects of the course," confirms Bartosch. At most universities, there are also additional events during which students attempt to learn how social establishments should be organised to be more sensitive to instances of abuse and how to prevent these. A growing number of students are interested in working for educational establishments. Recently the focus in this field has been on Childhood Education. At many universities (including the university of applied sciences in Cologne, Saarland, and Hamburg), Bachelor's and Master's courses have been set up for this. During such courses, students learn how to develop and implement educational and supervisory concepts for kindergartens, for example. Though a further qualification to become a child and adolescent psychotherapist is sometimes possible with the Bachelor's degree, it is sometimes only possible with a Master's degree. Students are advised to find out about their options early on during the training placements. In many Bachelor's and Master's courses, the focus is increasingly on the supervision and care of the elderly. Students learn how to help elderly people so they can retain their independence ? by helping them coordinate care services and cleaners, for example.
Aptitude, obstacles, misconceptions
At the start, many students expect practical instructions to help them deal with social problems, however events are instead often abstract, and aim to enable general problem solving. However, the sense of achievement comes latest in the extensive practical phases. Anne Moseler and her fellow students in Coburg made it possible for others to experience what it feels like to have a disability with the senses adventure course they developed, for example. Schools use it time and time again, it is popular with students, and it encourages mutual understanding. "We achieve something worthwhile during this course." Besides the wish to help others, aspiring social workers and social educationalist should be tolerant and patient. "They need unshakeable self-awareness and sensitivity ? for when they are called upon to assist a homeless person, for example," explains Ulrich Bartosch, a professor in Eichstätt. Offers of help must be prepared and opportunities developed for clients that are free from social romanticism. Familiarity with the support structures in one's local area is also essential: where can homeless people spend the day? Where can they shower? Where can they stay the night? Many students are surprised at the weight attributed to legal and management aspect in the course. However, to be able to represent their clients, social workers must know their rights. An ability to communicate is also extremely important. "One must always be able to set the right tone," says Ulrich Bartosch ? whether approaching potential sponsors, or working on the streets. Social workers often bear the brunt of the anger of those they are trying to help. One must be able to handle this. And to also witness human suffering ? and to not always be able to immediately change anything. Desire and reality are seldom the same thing in Social Work. Most courses have local admission restrictions. In the past, the numerus clausus has been between 2.0 and 2.5. Some universities expect students to complete a work placement before signing up for the course, while others invite students to a selection interview, as is the case at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Ludwigsburg and Fulda University of Applied Sciences. For the Master's programme, students should increasingly expect a selection interview and to have to write a letter of motivation; depending on the university, the numerus clausus lies at around 2.0.
Social workers and social educationalists support those on the Hartz IV long-term unemployment benefits with the paperwork at public authorities, or develop leisure programmes in public youth work. Challenging fields of activity include in prisons or on the streets, where they are out and about as streetworkers, and help junkies with drug rehabilitation. They support those in debt negotiate with their bank, and help immigrants find a place to live. They care for the elderly, and prepare financial and personnel plans for social establishments. Social educationalists specialising in Childhood Education work in day nurseries (often in managerial roles), but also support children and adolescents in all-day schools. The key employers are ecclesial associations such as Caritas and Diakonie, establishments of social welfare organisations such as the Arbeiterwohlfahrt (AWO) and the German Red Cross, and non-profit organisations and foundations. The public sector offers jobs in local authorities, schools, kindergartens and hospitals. Some companies value the social experts' ability to approach other people and develop their perspectives with them, employing them in personnel development. The tasks of social workers and social educationalists vary widely depending on the employer and field of activity. In most areas, particular sensitivity is called for; in others, leadership qualities are key. They must always be good at organising though. According to Ulrich Bartosch, the career prospects are currently favourable: "Things haven't looked this good for a long time. Most graduates even find work in their region." However, contracts are mostly time-limited, a great deal of work is project-based, and the positions in the public sector ultimately depend on the political decision-makers. Furthermore, social workers generally earn less than others with a university degree: according to a survey conducted in 2010 by Hochschul-Informations-System GmbH, the average salary in the first year of work totalled 27,700 EUR.
REPORT BY: CHRISTIAN HEINRICH
consozial.de. Website of the annual ConSozial conference in Nuremberg.
soziales-netz.de. An A to Z of information, links and literature tips on social work.
sozialarbeit.de: Invites students, teachers and social workers to an opinion exchange. With an international work placement exchange.
bit.ly/zs11sozialearbeit: In the Social Work qualification framework, the Association of Social Workers (Fachbereichstag Soziale Arbeit ? FBTS) describes the training aims for the Bachelor's, Master's and doctorate courses.