The Key to Success

ddn careers

People find work in the drugs sector through a variety of routes and for a range of different reasons.

DDN is partnering with Addiction Professionals to explore the pathways into the field, and how to progress once you’re there.

As everyone knows, working in the sector has its challenges – as has especially been the case in recent years – but it can also be hugely rewarding. It’s not everyone who can honestly say that their work is making a real difference to people’s lives – with those people being some of the most vulnerable in our society.

The desperately needed infusion of cash following the Carol Black review and the drug strategy will hopefully mark a genuine turning point for the sector after years of disinvestment, and with it come new opportunities for those wanting to enter the field or further develop their existing careers.

In the coming months we’ll be exploring a wide range of roles including pharmacist, therapist, psychologist, social worker, nurse and volunteer, but we kick off by looking at one of the mainstays of the profession – the recovery/keyworker.

Keyworkers are the primary point of contact for the client, and their aim is to build a strong and trusting relationship that will form the basis of a successful treatment journey – something that’s become more of a challenge in an era of ever-shrinking budgets and ever-expanding caseloads. The keyworker works with the client to formulate exactly the right care plan, and will also liaise with a range of other professionals – inside and outside the sector – to try to secure the best possible outcomes for their client across areas like housing, health, family issues and employment.

There are no nationally recognised training requirements for keyworker jobs, although some services may specify a minimum necessary level of educational achievement. In community treatment settings this might be a level 3 health and social care diploma, while in residential rehab settings employers may insist on a care certificate. Some keyworkers will be former service users or volunteers themselves, while others may already have professional qualifications from other disciplines such as social work, nursing, counselling, youth work or probation.

While there’s no formally recognised accreditation system for the keyworker role, there is accreditation available through Addiction Professionals and there’s also accreditation for family workers developed in partnership with Adfam. When it comes to career progression, some employers are happy to support their staff to study for vocational degrees or attain managerial qualifications, or they may encourage them to develop specialisms within the field – such as blood-borne viruses.

Below we hear from two people about the challenges and rewards of the role.


Liam Topping, engagement and recovery worker, Cranstoun
Liam Topping, engagement and recovery worker, Cranstoun

These past 12 months working for Cranstoun have been a fantastic and insightful learning experience. When I applied for the job, I was equipped with my GCSEs, less than 12 months of experience working in mental health care, and zero experience working in a substance use setting. Within a matter of months training with Cranstoun I felt confident and knowledgeable in the field, and by the end of my trainee programme I had been awarded a level 3 NVQ in adult care and a full-time job as an engagement and recovery worker, independently managing my own caseload of over 60 clients.

A typical day working as a trainee with Cranstoun is split between academic training and working on-the-job. There are a number of training sessions focused on the various elements of good practice in adult care, as well as many opportunities to engage directly with service users by developing care plans, conducting a range of tests and assessments, and assisting with their queries and concerns both in-person and over the phone. Most of my time is spent in or around our general office, where I’m surrounded by experts in the field, all of whom are willing to support and guide me in my training. To me, the most rewarding aspect of this job is having the opportunity to make a genuine impact on the lives of others, and be witness to their recovery journey first-hand.

If I could change anything about the current trainee scheme, it would be to place an even greater focus on opportunities to work alongside the existing staff and support them with their duties, as it was during these experiences that I believe I learned the most about the job.

The apprenticeship scheme that has been developed by Cranstoun has granted me the opportunity to go from knowing almost nothing about this industry to being fully trained and working independently in only 12 months. I would absolutely recommend to anybody interested in a career in substance use to consider becoming a trainee with Cranstoun – it’s one of the most rewarding experiences that you can have in this field.


Laura Clark, recovery worker, Forward Trust
Laura Clark, recovery worker, Forward Trust

As a recovery worker, my role is to support drug and alcohol users within a prison setting to make changes to their substance use – throughout their sentence and prior to their release. I’m responsible for managing a caseload, completing comprehensive assessments and creating individual SMART care plans tailored to a client’s individual needs. As well as carrying out tailored one-to-one sessions, I also facilitate group sessions using a range of motivational interviewing skills, as well as CBT.

A person’s recovery journey can change a lot whilst in prison, and everyone starts at a different point. I personally feel it is a huge privilege to be involved in this process and play an active part in helping someone change their behaviour. I have clients who have been actively using substances at the point of assessment (yes, people do use drugs in prison!), and not recognised their use as a problem. Through motivational one-to-one sessions they come to view this use differently, and are then motivated to explore it further during group sessions. Sometimes a seemingly insignificant conversation plants a seed which a client later reflects on. Nothing makes me happier, however, then seeing a client the morning of their release from prison and hearing them say they are never going to use again, thanks to yourself and the Forward Trust.

At present there are no nationally recognised training requirements for this role, merely an ability to demonstrate transferable skills, knowledge of the recovery agenda, and a desire and ability to support people to make changes to their behaviour. People with substance misuse histories and who are in prison are often the most negatively stereotyped and stigmatised individuals in society. I don’t see clients in this way. I see them as people, who have a history, and who are in need of support. If you believe a person can change, then you can help them to believe this too. So, for anyone considering a career in this field, think about all the lives that you can help change, and how fantastic that can be.

Visit the DDN/Addiction Professionals career section to find out more about working in the sector, read case studies of people working in different roles and find out more about how to take your next step.

We are launching a careers clinic with expert advice from Addiction Professionals to answer your questions on qualifications, training and employment. Please email your questions to using ‘Careers Clinic’ in the title.

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