I am a TPO who started as part of the big graduate recruitment onto the PQF. I had already been working as a PSO in Probation prior to this for 3 years, and before that worked in programmes in a Prison for 2 years so consider myself to be slightly different to the majority of my TPO colleagues.
Our experience has been a frustrating and confusing one thus far. Aside from the recruitment process being shambolic with last minute interview dates given, having to wait nine weeks to find out if we were successful, finding out where we would be located two weeks before we were expected to start, I also had the added rigmarole of having to transfer from the CRC to NPS. Cue approximately 50 phone calls to shared services to prompt (and in the end push) them to correct my contract to acknowledge my continuous service and terms and conditions.
Since training has begun, I have to say management in my area have tried their hardest to help make this a positive experience for us. They were completely left out of the recruitment process and were given little to no guidance as to what should be done with us as we embarked upon a 15 month programme to become a qualified probation officer. Training events have been organised giving us sometimes only 48 hours notice that we need to travel a significant distance, they have also been cancelled sometimes on the day(!) via email when we have all already been on our way to the location. Getting cases has been a nightmare as very few of the NPS caseload are suitable for TPOs; I am only lucky with my previous PSO and programme experience that I have been allowed to have more 'meatier' cases than my fellow TPO colleagues.
I am so grateful to be finally training. It is what I wanted to do when I graduated in 2010 and it is what I have had in the back of my mind through my career so far in that I feel I have tried my hardest to get as much relevant experience as possible. I worry for my fellow TPOs. There is a sense of naivety, and with some perhaps a complacent bravado attitude of 'I can handle anything'. There seems to be a reluctance to ask for advice and a desire to push ahead with making decisions without consulting more experienced colleagues. This is all well and good, however training events thus far have focused on theory with little advice as to how to complete the more practice elements of the job, such as assessing risk of serious harm, completing MAPPA referrals, assessing for HDC etc.
Unfortunately the way training was sold on the website highlighted the starting wage of a Probation Officer and some seem to be using this as their main focus to succeed. Well, what 22 year old wouldn't want to be earning near enough £30,000 a year after graduating from University? What some of my fellow TPOs fail to realise is the true demand of the job. Most only have a handful of cases, have yet to work with the most serious of NPS cases and experienced the stress and difficulty involved in this. I have yet to experience this either, but know from my experience thus far not to go in with rose tinted glasses.
They estimate that there are 750 trainee probation officers as a result of this recruitment drive. A meeting with our regional head last week informed us that they were not clear what would happen with all of us when we qualify. When asked if we would get the PO role they have stated we would be 'transitioned' into, the response given was vague and went along the lines of 'you will need to be very flexible with regards to location'. When there are TPOs training across the country, I cannot see how there will be vacancies in other areas if there are no vacancies in the area that we are training in. It's also all well and good saying be flexible, but that isn't so easy with a young family to think about. I fear there will be a number of floating qualified POs kept in PSO posts with attempts to make them hold PO cases. I certainly will not agree to that.
I find myself feeling anxious and uptight every day, having to remind myself why I am training. I love this line of work, I love working with offenders and coaching people to make even the smallest of changes to their lives. But I look around and see stressed and tired colleagues, I read this blog and feel for the experiences of POs and other NPS staff around the country and wonder what I am doing.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post. If anyone has any advice for me (I am expecting a number of leave whilst you still can!), I would be most grateful.