A career in social work includes helping others and positively impacting people from all walks of life. It is a dynamic career path that enables you to work across a variety of industries and allows you to make meaningful connections. With the right education and experience, there are many types of social work specialisms to choose from. Here is a complete guide to a career in social work to help you decide if it is the right path for you.
What is Social Work?
The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) identifies social work as an academic discipline and practice-based profession that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. The practice of social work revolves around understanding human behavior, development, and the principles of human rights, social justice, and responsibility as a collective.
What Does Social Work Involve?
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) states that the core values of social work include dignity, service, social justice, and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity, and competence. Social work professionals work with individuals, families, and communities in various settings and industries with these core values in mind. Social workers provide a broad range of services to a diverse client base and aim to help people cope with stressful or difficult situations. Not only do social workers provide care, but they also act as advocates to help their clients achieve the best outcome in specific scenarios.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median average wage was $51,760 per year in May 2020. However, this depends on the specialism and the level of education and experience one gains. In addition, the overall employment outlook for social workers is 13 percent from 2019 to 2029; this growth rate exceeds the average for other jobs.
Is Social Work Right for You?
Besides being onboard with the fundamental principles and values of social work, individuals who wish to pursue a career down this path would benefit from possessing a certain skill set. This includes empathy for others, an optimistic outlook, good communication skills, the ability to be discreet, and they should also be familiar with relevant resources to provide their clients with the necessary support they need. Social workers take on different roles for their clients. They need to listen and support their clients to help them work through difficult issues and connect with them to achieve desired outcomes. This line of work can be emotionally and mentally demanding; therefore, social workers should have a genuine interest in helping other people. They should also be able to keep their emotions at bay to deliver professional results for their clients.
Where Do I Begin?
To become a social worker, you must adhere to educational requirements and obtain licensure. The first step into the social work world begins with a bachelor’s degree. Although a bachelor’s degree in social work isn’t essential, the chosen degree should be closely related and include courses relevant to social work practice and social services. Prospective social work students will also benefit from enrolling in relevant courses, internships, and volunteering opportunities in social work.
A bachelor’s degree in social work, or a relevant degree, is often enough for an entry-level social work job. However, certain specialisms will require the addition of a master’s degree, which can take two years. A master of social work degree provides students with advanced knowledge and training and helps them build on their existing comprehension of the field. With a master’s degree in social work and the right experience, the social work world is your oyster. For example, to become a clinical social worker, one must be a master of social work and possess two years of supervised post-master’s experience within a clinical setting. Not to mention, they must also obtain a license to practice as a social worker. The licensure is dependent on the state in which they wish to practice.
Social Work Careers
During their education, social work students can specialize their training and place focus in a specific area. This is dependent on the type of setting they want to work in and the clients they wish to work with. Specialisms include mental health, healthcare, children, families, and school social work. With specialist knowledge, a social work student is more likely to stand out in the job market and build their career within their chosen specialism.
School Social Worker
School social workers, as the job role implies, work within an educational setting. They work with children, teenagers, and young adults to help them achieve success in academia and to cope with issues that arise in school. School social workers can also help children, teenagers, and young adults with their goals in the long term.
Clinical Social Worker
As mentioned above, to become a clinical social worker, one must have a master of social work degree and gain relevant experience in the field. Clinical social workers practice in a therapeutic or a medical setting, and they work with women, men, and children. Their role can include helping adults look for a career or assist them with their living arrangements. Clinical social workers can also help individuals with specific lifestyle challenges they experience and help them manage problems that arise.
Mental Health Social Worker
A career in mental health social work revolves around helping women, men and children manage their mental health issues and disorders. Mental health social workers work alongside individuals to make a positive impact on their mental health condition. By working with individuals, mental health social workers can directly address complications that arise from an individual’s disorder. As with clinical social workers, mental health social workers must also have a relevant master’s degree.
Non-Traditional Career Choices
With a social work degree, individuals can also pursue other worthwhile career choices that are not directly related to social work. For example, with the knowledge and skills developed from a degree in social work, degree holders can branch out as a teacher, a career counselor, or a paralegal.