Social work is exploding in popularity according to the U.S Department of Labor Statistics, which expects the profession to grow by 19 percent during the decade through to 2022. The industry is an exciting avenue for workers both young and old as it enables them to connect with a diverse range of people and to address challenges in a variety of different situations.
Human services workers are focused on making the lives of those they come into contact with better in some way. Important qualities for individuals aiming to build a career in social work include excellent communication, emotional, interpersonal, organization and problem-solving skills. Duties are wide-ranging and depend on the work environment and job roles, which we will cover in a moment, but the job outlook for social workers overall is positive as healthcare spending continues to grow.
Child, family, and school
Helping children and adults to cope with the daily demands of everyday life is a primary area of social work. It is broken down into three defined roles: social work for children, social work for families and social work in schools. The first of these requires you to look after the psychological well-being of children, with specific tasks such as helping those that have been abused and to find foster homes. The familial aspect of social work would see you interact with families on a regular basis and assist parents, while school work is centered around improving academic performance and aiding students with challenges such as teenage pregnancy and behavior within school settings.
- There are approximately 317,000 people working in this broad category
- Professionals can earn upwards of $62,170 in school environments
Social workers in the healthcare sector provide help and assistance to families and individuals who are struggling with severe or terminal conditions. You would be required to inform and educate, manage their care and address issues that may be preventing them from getting care, in addition to offering support for other life challenges. Typical work environments include medical and surgical hospitals, nursing homes, homecare and outpatient care centers.
- There are around 175,000 social workers employed in healthcare
- The average annual wage is $55,510
Community social work
Social and community service managers arguably require the most varied and extensive skill sets as they have to juggle a myriad of administrative roles. You would be required to coordinate activities on a daily basis for community groups, interact with stakeholders for the organization you are working for to determine the best services, measure the effectiveness of programs that are being implemented, manage budgets and identify the needs of a community. Common work settings include individual and family services, state and local government and nursing and residential communities.
- Employment in this area is predicted to increase by 10 percent during the next five years
- State and local government community managers have the highest median salaries of $74,070, while workers in other environments can expect to earn around $57,000
Mental health and substance abuse
Social workers support people with mental illnesses and addiction by managing 12-step programs and helping them to overcome shame and stigmas. Care actions often include crisis intervention and case management, and work often takes place in dedicated residential facilities, outpatient care centers or family services.
- More than 120,000 social workers are employed in mental health and substance abuse settings
- The mean annual wage is $47,880
Once you have decided the area of social work that you wish to specialize in, the next step is to explore education, experience and certification requirements for your chosen field. There is not a hard, fast route to every social work role and your educational path will be dictated by the specialty you wish to pursue.
Many social workers find that an associate social services degree is an excellent grounding point for a successful career, as you will be able to take courses such as psychology, sociology, and mental health to learn the history of social work and the code of ethics required. A degree is great for attaining entry-level positions and also for working towards other more advanced roles. Full-time students can earn an associate degree in just two years.
An associate degree can be a precursor to a bachelor’s degree in social work, a social work master’s degree (MSW) or a social work doctoral degree. An MSW may be the best course if you are targeting a role in healthcare, for example, as this level of education is required for many jobs. Meanwhile, two years of supervised training is usually mandatory for those that have obtained an MA degree and want to become clinical social workers. Again, you need to take a closer look at the line of work you want to pursue and tailor your education path from there.
Licenses, certifications and core competencies
You will need licenses and certifications for both clinical and non-clinical social positions in the majority of states. You should contact the licensing board in the area where you wish to work to find out the exact requirements. When moving forward with your career, your focus should switch from formal education to core competencies, which are measurable practice behaviors that determine how good you are at doing a job. The National Social Competency Framework (NWSCF) lists nine specific skill, value and knowledge domain competencies, which include Group Work, Social Work Supervision and Ethics, Values and Legislation.
There is a vast number of careers relating to social work. They include health educators and community health workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, rehabilitation counselors, probation officers and school counselors. There are hundreds of associate, bachelor and master’s degree programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education so any of these fulfilling roles could be yours if you can complete a professional development plan that covers education, licensing and competencies.