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High-flyers on fast-track programme give social work an image boost

The Times

The image of the downtrodden, overworked social worker appears to be undergoing a radical transformation, with this year’s crop of graduates voting a fast-track recruitment scheme for the profession as one of the best employers in the country.

Frontline has been ranked 76th in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, above investment banks such as UBS and Santander, and media companies including Bloomberg and Channel 4.

The last year has been a difficult one for the profession, with social workers’ failings over the sexual exploitation of teenagers in the headlines.

Frontline, which was founded only a year ago, cannot match the recruitment efforts of big banks, who spend thousands wooing graduates. It has a staff of 18, a tiny budget and can offer a starting salary of only £19,000. However, Frontline appears to have learnt from the success of Teach First, the scheme that parachutes high-flying graduates into inner city schools.

Teach First is now so successful that one in ten Oxbridge students applies to join the scheme, and it has been ranked second in the top 100.

Martin Birchall, editor of the index, said it was virtually unprecedented for an organisation to enter the top 100 in its first year of operation, but Teach First had provided a very good model to follow.

Josh MacAlister, Frontline’s chief executive, said: “Our place in theTimes top 100 demonstrates that the best graduates are motivated by the rewards of a job with social purpose.”

The index is compiled from the responses of 18,000 graduates. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accountant, is top for an 11th consecutive year. However, the City firms are being challenged from an unlikely source: Aldi, the supermarket chain, is in fourth place. A starting salary of £41,000, company car and the prospect of being in charge of stores within a year is a major draw.

Mr Birchall added: “There are plenty of investment banks in the top 100 with starting salaries of £50,000, so clearly a proportion of graduates are motivated by financial reward. But the NHS is in the top five — which students see as a way to get great management experience and give back.”

I want to make a difference

Laurie Martin, a Cambridge graduate now working in the children’s service department at Tower Hamlets council, is not surprised by Frontline’s popularity among graduates. The organisation has filled a big gap in the student recruitment market, he believes.

“Many graduates want a job where they can make a real difference to vulnerable people and the opportunities to do that are actually quite limited,” Mr Martin, 23, said.

Any concerns that Frontline was an untried route were alleviated by the success of Teach First, he added. “There is clearly a lot to learn, including a lot of theory, but it is learning by doing, and that is also really appealing,” said Mr Martin.

Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent