Alumnus and ex-EUSA president, Josh MacAlister is transforming the world of social work with a fast track training scheme that is already a top graduate employer.
Josh MacAlister started first year of university as a typically enthusiastic Fresher, signing up to dozens of societies. However it was student politics which kept him engaged and set him on a path to tackling one of the country’s toughest professions.
In his third year Josh was elected as president of EUSA and it was this early start in politics which led him to setting up a ground breaking new scheme aimed at attracting the best graduates into the often overlooked field of social work.
My most vivid memory of Teviot, where a lot of my time was spent, is of having animated rows during student council meetings in the debating hall.
A challenging career
After taking a year out to fulfil the role of EUSA president, campaigning on issues such as bursaries for students experiencing financial difficulties, Josh attended a careers fair in his final year.
I was looking for something which would develop and challenge myself, as well as having some kind of social purpose.
Teach First, the fast track teaching scheme which places top graduates in schools in low-income communities, fitted Josh’s criteria and he applied.
After being accepted he was placed in a school in Oldham, in Greater Manchester. Struck by the number of children in his class who had contact with social workers, Josh became interested in the opportunities available to these young people upon leaving school and quickly realised that the statistics in relation to looked after children and life prospects made for depressing reading.
Social work at speed
Josh wrote what he describes now as a ‘naïve paper’. This mapped out his idea for a fast track scheme similar to Teach First, but applicable to social work. It attracted positive attention, and after being published by think tank IPPR, it was approved by the government.
Josh had to make the difficult decision whether to leave teaching and the strong relationships he had built with staff and students, or to head up the new scheme.
Hopefully Josh has no regrets, as the first intake of students have completed the summer institute training and are now working alongside social work departments in London and Manchester.
I was worried about whether the first group of graduates would turn up, and whether we had chosen the right people. It quickly became clear that we had.
The first cohort at Frontline includes engineers, archaeologists and politics graduates. Frontline recruit based not just on academic skills, but qualities such as empathy and the ability to have difficult conversations with families.
Josh speaks of giving social work a rebrand, but in the first year of operation they have already been listed in the Times Higher Education top employers and two Edinburgh graduates were amongst the first to enrol.
My advice to current students would be to really appreciate what may be the quietest period of your life. Grab the opportunities surrounding you and meet as many people as you can. I remember thinking that I could take a course in Arabic if I wanted to. I never did in the end, but I probably will never have the time or opportunity to do so now.