Downtown Tauranga shoppers paused to acknowledge a procession of 96 Bethlehem Tertiary Institute (BTI) graduates on Saturday as they made their celebratory march from Red Square up to Holy Trinity Church for their graduation ceremony.
Onlookers may have spotted five graduates wearing green academic regalia amongst a sea of blue and gold. Those graduating from BTI’s teaching and counselling degree and diploma programmes wear blue and gold regalia. The new colour represents the very first cohort of students to graduate from BTI’s Bachelor of Social Work degree programme, which began in 2012.
The Ministry of Immigration includes social work on the long-term skills shortage list for New Zealand, so social work graduates are in a good position to find employment in a variety of social work roles nationally.
Each of the five BTI social work graduates found employment as a social worker immediately after completing their study, most of them with the organisations they did their practicum placements with. Tauranga local, Maylene Jennings, has been employed as a Care and Protection Social Worker at the Open Home Foundation in Tauranga and says she finds the work rewarding. “I had set a goal of one day working for a statutory agency that works with the most at-risk families,” says Maylene. “It is such an awesome privilege to be working alongside families, especially those who may have never felt heard before.”
The BTI social work degree programme is unique in New Zealand in that it includes a spiritual dimension, and encourages students to deeply consider how their own beliefs and values impact on their practice as a social worker.
Programme Co-ordinator, Heidi Crawford, says that many people come into social work thinking that they are going to learn how to tell people what to do. “At BTI we continually say that it must start with self,” she says. “Many of our students talk about not only a journey of becoming a social worker, but a journey of personal transformation.”
Maylene Jennings agrees. “I really believe that the social work journey has changed me to be a better version of myself from four years ago,” she says. “I am more empathetic, non-judgmental and inclusive. BTI allows you to be yourself, challenges you and provides a safe place to be honest about your values and beliefs.”