“Stay flexible and keep developing your skills”
An interview with Prof Dr Thomas Schübel, programme director and lecturer, about the social work degree programme and prerequisites for social workers and social pedagogues
IUBH: Why did you become a lecturer of social work?
Prof Dr Thomas Schübel: I was motivated to go into teaching because I wanted to give students a good preparation for the profession. It’s all about creating favourable conditions for the field of social work. Students should learn to adopt different perspectives and develop empathy and creativity. Even though we have many theories and models in such a degree programme, it is of prime important to develop the skills needed for responsible and relational based social work. That is important to me, in addition to all the scientific expertise.
IUBH: In your opinion, is social work a vocation or a profession?
Prof Schübel: To me, vocation sounds a little too much like altruism. Above all, the profession is demanding. It requires not only expertise and methodological knowledge, but also the ability to deal with contradictions and complex situations. Social work is not a technique. Rather, it requires one to act professionally and to have a good deal of personal maturity. The ability to engage with other people and to reflect on one’s own actions and experience is learnable. As is, of course, the technical knowledge. However, the profession does require a certain amount of passion for critical thinking and decisive action.
IUBH: How have you experienced this?
Prof Schübel: Social workers do not get a grace period, the job starts on the first day. I started working in the area of supervised independent living for the people with mental illness, and it did not take long before I was sitting with my clients in their apartments. I always thought, how can I justify that this person only has me as a supervisor, when I, as a beginner, have absolutely no clue? These self-doubts, however, did keep me from overestimating myself. It was not easy, but the weekly practical guidance from experienced colleagues, the supervision and team sessions quickly improved my self-confidence. All in all, it was a wonderful job.
IUBH: In what areas are graduates needed?
Prof Schübel: The professional field is huge, varied and challenging. It extends from child and youth welfare care services, to adult services, elderly care, and also, increasingly, to child day care services and remedial education. Social work is in demand whenever there are social problems that need to be prevented or need to be dealt with in the best possible manner. To the best of our ability, we contribute to ensuring greater social justice.
IUBH: What makes the professional field so varied and challenging?
Prof Schübel: The range of activities is extremely broad and there are many career pathways. No one needs to make a commitment at the beginning. However, social work is also constantly changing because it responds to the social problems that arise. Therefore, you have to stay flexible and keep developing your skills. For those who like it, social work is an ideal professional field, and the degree programme in social work at IUBH is a great springboard!
IUBH: What is so special about the IUBH degree programme in social work?
Prof Schübel: Due to the close integration of study and practical workweeks in the dual study programme, the theory-practice transfer is easier. As a result, the so-called “job shock” is mitigated, a phenomenon which new graduates often face if their degree programme did not include hands-on experience and the chance to take on real responsibilities.
IUBH: The degree programme is also available through distance learning. What are the differences?
Prof Schübel: The distance learning and dual studies curricula are synchronized. However, the students’ motivations usually differ. While dual studies enables students to get immediate practical experience, distance learning students are often already working or are looking for a flexible way to obtain a degree. We give this consideration, of course, in the different programmes. We are currently developing new formats to expand online opportunities for social learning.
IUBH: Through the degree programme one can acquire state certification as a social worker and social pedagogue – is this important?
Prof Schübel: State certification is a prerequisite for many areas of social work. Public authorities require it. A degree programme without state certification has little value: professionals do not take it seriously.
IUBH: Starting in 2018 the distance learning programme will also offer a master’s in social work. Who is this programme geared for, and what will the content be?
Prof Schübel: In the bachelor’s programme, students get an overview of many topics. The master’s in social work is interesting for those who wants to delve deeper into the question of what causes social problems and what social work can offer to prevent or mitigate them. Students work more intensively with the scientific foundations of social work, including research methods. It covers the necessary basics for those who want to be active participants in the professional debates about social work. Optional specialisations are offered in “Early childhood education”, “Clinical social work and health promotion” and “Social-spatial approaches and networking”.
IUBH: That sounds like an exciting new way to pursue a career in social work. Professor Schübel, thank you for the interview.
Interview conducted by Jennifer E. Muhr
Note that this study course is just in German available.