We recently sat down with Gabriella Heffer, a Resource Officer for ESCC’s Adult Social Care Team who is doing a Social Worker Degree Apprentice at the University of Brighton, to discuss her experience so far.

Gabriella’s story

“I had been working as a resource officer for more than ten years, when I found out about the opportunity to do a degree apprenticeship. My ultimate goal was to become qualified as a social worker, so when I saw there was a way of doing it while working in the role, I knew it would be ideal for me. I wasn’t in a position to go to university full time and to fund it myself, and this apprenticeship meant I didn’t have to worry about either of those things. It was the perfect opportunity.”

Gabriella explains the degree apprenticeship application process to us, describing it as “intense and nerve-wrecking, but so worth it”. While Gabriella was nervous about finding out how she’d done, she luckily didn’t have to wait too long.

“I interviewed on the Friday and was told I had a place on the Monday. So, there wasn’t too much waiting thankfully!”

Despite starting the apprenticeship during the pandemic, Gabriella explains how quickly she found her feet, not least because of the resounding support from fellow apprentices, lecturers, and colleagues. The University of Brighton also offered a lot of support for mental health, providing access to counselling if needed.

What opportunities does this degree apprenticeship offer?

Two years into the apprenticeship, Gabriella says she can see how much her learning and knowledge has improved.

“If anyone was looking at an apprenticeship like this and experiencing self-doubt, perhaps because they don’t feel they’re academic enough, my advice would be not to listen to that negative inner voice and to go for it! I never considered myself hugely academic, but I really do believe that if you’re passionate about something, this comes through in your work and writing. I have found my groove with it because I love talking about social work and writing about it.”

Through the apprenticeship, she has had the opportunity to shadow and work with a variety of teams in the profession that she may not have otherwise had the experience of: “The great thing with the apprenticeship is that it’s such a well-rounded experience. Everything you learn in your lectures; you try and apply that as best you can to your work. This is such a benefit because you then understand more about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Apprenticeships offer the best of both worlds – learning and doing.”

Following the apprenticeship, Gabriella plans to do an ASYE (Assessed and Supported Year in Employment) so that she will be signed off as a fully qualified social worker. Her career goal is to then work towards becoming an Independent Reviewing Officer in Children’s Services.

Why do you think social work is so important?

“It’s such an important role because it’s a voice for more vulnerable people within our communities. It’s linking in with other services and agencies to work together and ultimately try and help people improve their situation.

“I see it as a fundamental role in society that does incredible things to help people. For me personally, a lot of my values really align with the values of social work. As an empath who wants to promote and boost other people’s strengths, I believe that is the essence of what we do in social work.”

What would you say to somebody considering an apprenticeship?

“Ultimately, I would say go for it! Have the confidence in yourself to know that you can do it, so long as you’re prepared to put the hard work in and are passionate about what you do. You will receive so much support from the people around you – fellow apprentices, other undergraduates, tutors, and everyone across East Sussex and Brighton University (or whichever learning establishment you choose to study with).

“An apprenticeship is such a well-rounded and supported way of working toward your career goal. It is never too late to follow your passion, so just go for it!”

If you are interested in finding out more about apprenticeship roles at East Sussex County Council then visit our website for more details and to see what roles are currently on offer.