Solidifying experience with a degree

Claude Emke
  • Team leader
  • Ngāti Raukawa

Open Polytechnic Bachelor of Social Work student, Claude Emke (Ngati Raukawa) says his 20 years’ experience as a social worker is being solidified by working towards finishing his Bachelor of Social work.

A rewarding career

The 55-year-old says finishing his Bachelor of Social Work with the Open Polytechnic, New Zealand’s distance learning specialist, is solidifying two decades of invaluable hands-on experience, which has had a huge impact on the children in his care.

“Sometimes the result as a social worker is not always overt. I guess that the most immediate change is hearing children start to laugh again,” explains Claude, who is a team leader for a residential service, a role which sees him managing human resources, planning programmes as well as caring for children.

This year alone, 200 children would have passed through the residential facility where Claude works.

“The most rewarding part of my job is looking at the before and after photos. Seeing a child move from a place of hurt to a place where they can just be children. In many cases they have had adult expectations placed on them. Providing them a safe, secure environment helps lift that burden. We are able to give them a memory and help them see that life can be different.”

Claude says his studies to date have given him a deeper understanding of the context in which social workers operate.

“The Te Ao Māori course has given me some insight. It has helped me look closer at different issues. My colleagues often remark on the theory based discussions we find ourselves having. Finding time to study on top of work can be difficult, but it is important that I am upskilling and staying on top of theory. It has definitely given me a broader understanding of what is going on.”

Balancing it all

Claude is working towards finishing his degree at his own pace. With a demanding career and family commitments he says he is determined to finish his qualification, even if that means completing two courses a year.

“I recently came to the realisation that even though I am 55 next month, I am not retired in any way, shape or form. I am not procrastinating, I am chipping away at my studies and that suits me.”

Supportive lecturers

Support from Open Polytechnic lecturers has made a huge difference to his study journey, says Claude, adding that the contact courses that form part of the Bachelor of Social Work qualification allowed him to connect with staff and other students.

“The lecturers are great, you send them an email with a question and they get straight back to you.” he says. 

“I also really enjoyed the contact courses in the last couple of months. As a distance learner you don’t often get the opportunity to meet up with fellow students. It was inspiring being with other like-minded people, it really reinforced what we are doing as social workers and I came away feeling uplifted.”

A new generation of social workers

For anyone considering social work as a profession, Claude says one of the most important attributes a social worker has to have is empathy, while remaining objective.

He says that studying towards a Bachelor of Social work will not only enrich the individual’s understanding of their field, but will future proof their career as changes in the industry towards mandatory registration for social workers become a reality.

“I think it is important for anyone considering social work as a career to remember they are part of a journey. It is a big commitment, you can’t come in half- hearted and it is not a 9 to 5 job. You need to be clear as to why you are undertaking social work. It is important to be a positive role model.”

For anyone considering distance study, Claude says although study is a big commitment and at times difficult, it is worth the effort.

“I have always found the Open Polytechnic very supportive. I place a high expectation on myself but you have to find a balance between work and other commitments. I have made it work for me. There is no point in procrastinating. Just do it.” 

It is important that I am upskilling and staying on top of theory. It has definitely given me a broader understanding of what is going on.