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Careers in Social Work, Jobs and Employment Information

Social Work Career and Job Highlights

  • Most social work positions require a master’s degree in a related area of study
  • Job growth is expected to take place at faster-than-average rates
  • Job opportunities will be keen in rural locations, while competition is likely to remain high in city areas.

Social Work Career Overview

Social workers include those with strong humanitarian desires and anyone who wants to help people cope in life and within relationships. They also help people with chronic illnesses or other problems relating to drug abuse, disability, or conflicts in the home.

Many social workers work with health service organizations in providing short-term care. These services are becoming increasingly community based and decentralized.

Many social workers specialize in an area in which they have special interest, whether it be research and planning or working personally with clients.

Child, family, and school social workers work with families to enhance their home and academic welfare. They often work with broken families and finding foster homes for neglected children. In education, they work with schools to promote student health and behavior. They assist elderly individuals with needed housing, care, and transportation services; also, they support caregivers for families in unique situations. Social workers also help people experiencing social problems or pressures relating to work and relationships. They work in all levels of government to promote various agencies dealing with families, children, and schools. Often these job titles are classified under family, child welfare or protection, gerontology, and occupational services.

Medical and public health social workers help people deal with many different illnesses. They offer counseling services to other professionals and patients. Often these workers will work on teams that determine the needs of particular patients. Overall, they work in many different agencies and organizations, including hospitals, family services organizations, local governments, and personal care agencies.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers evaluate and assist people with substance addictions or mental ailments. They offer services such as life-skills training, individual or group therapy, crisis intervention, rehabilitation, or general support in helping someone ease back into the community. These workers often work in personal care treatment or family agencies, substance abuse treatment facilities, local government and hospitals. These workers are often titled clinical workers.

Some social workers include policymakers and planners. These people research, analyze, develop, and implement programs for people experiencing different kinds of abuse or poverty. They recommend certain government action to take place and help raise finance for these programs.

Full-time hours are a typical 40-hour week for social workers, although many work over-time to assist clients with emergencies and attend meetings. Those who work for a non-profit organization usually work part-time hours. Social workers often work out of one or more offices in a single area to provide assistance to clients, attend meetings, and meet with other service providers. One problem experienced by agencies is understaffing. This tends to put a lot of emotional pressure on individuals within agencies. Consequently, some facilities and hospitals are hiring workers onto teams with a diverse range of specialists, from registered nurses to clinical health aids.

Social Work Training and Job Qualifications

A standard minimum qualification for social work is a bachelor’s degree in a related field of social work. In some cases, this can mean a degree in sociology and / or psychology. For entry into an advanced social work position in health or clinic settings, having a master’s degree (MSW) is expected among candidates. Other jobs that may require a Master’s degree include many public services agencies, administration, training, and supervisory positions, as well as research education jobs.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has accredited 149 Master’s programs in social work, and 436 bachelor’s programs for the same. The Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE) accredited 78 related doctoral programs. What constitute the bachelor’s programs are courses that prepare individuals for future service positions. Courses on social justice, human behavior, social research, practice, and policy, work ethics, diverse at-risk-populations, and field research (of which 400 hours is required for graduation).

Master’s programs help individual graduates prepare for a future in specialized research, assessment, and social service distribution. These programs typically require no less than 900 hours of internship work and 2-years of study, although 4 years is typical for part-time students. A bachelor’s degree in social work is not necessarily required for entering into the master’s program, but related fields of study and/or knowing a second language is definitely helpful.

Registration, licensure, or certification is required of all states to practice social work. Licensure requirements vary according to state standards, which are increasingly emphasizing professional, interpersonal, and cultural awareness skills. Based on a graduates professional skills and experience, they may be recommended for the Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW), the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW), the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW) the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), or other voluntary credentials. These are typically more important for practitioners in the private sector, such as health insurance agencies.

Beneficial skills for social workers to have are sensitivity to people, maturity, responsibility, independent effectiveness, and a strong ability to communicate with workers and clients. Volunteer positions and some paid jobs are available for those who wish to explore a field of related interest.

An advanced degree is usually required for one to advance to higher positions within an agency, such as executive or assistant director, program manager, or supervisor. Other options available to social workers include consulting, teaching, or working with governments in researching, analyzing, and recommending policy.

Social workers in the private sector include clinical psychotherapy providers that are paid either by the client or through health insurance. Private workers are usually required to have obtained a master’s degree and sufficient experience and referrals. It is common for such workers to provide part-time services while maintaining another full time job.

Social Work Job and Employment Opportunities

The greatest levels of demand for social services is in cities, but opportunities will continue to be available in rural locations where supply is generally weaker. Because demand is high in these areas, those specializing in substance abuse treatment and gerontology might have the best prospects for job placement.

Through 2012, job growth among social work is projected to grow at rates faster than the average for all other industries. This is especially so for gerontology workers who will be needed to accommodate the heightened demand among aging populations and the baby boom generation. Employee turnovers means job replacement needs among social working services.

Social worker demand in some hospitals will grow faster than in others, as certain hospitals are restricting stays to specified durations. As a result, home care services are becoming more prevalent among social worker orientations. The most prominent area of growth opportunities will be in gerontology related fields, as senior-housing communities will be needed to accommodate the rapidly growing elderly population. This demographic expansion will require more social workers to work in care facilities and nursing homes.

An increasing number of substance abuse workers will be needed over the next eight-year period as a result of a growing abuser placement into treatment centers as opposed to prisons. This necessarily means that more treatment workers are needed to help abusers placed into these programs.

Private sector employment is also expected to rise. Organizations will likely begin hiring assistants at lower pay levels as opposed to actual social workers. Governments at both local and State levels will require more workers to assist in welfare and family/child protection programs that are usually sub-contracted to the private sector. Job outlooks will vary in both private and public sectors according to need and financial flexibility.

Employment opportunities in educational fields are also expected to grow with rising school emphases on enrollment of physically and mentally challenged students. These opportunities are also highly dependent on government financing ability.

Employment in the private sector is expected to grow, notwithstanding some restrictions placed by organizations on certain health services. It is expected that many corporations will increasingly hire private practitioners to provide employee assistance services, but this will vary depending on business cycles and profit marginality.

Historical Earnings Information

Approximate annual salary earnings for family, child, and education social workers ranged from $21,000 for the bottom 10 percent to $54,000 for the top 10 percent. In 2002, median earnings were around $33,000.

Approximate annual salary earnings for public health and medical social workers ranged from $24,000 for the bottom 10 percent to $56,000 for the top 10 percent. In 2002, median earnings were around $37,000.

Approximate annual salary earnings for substance abuse and mental health social workers ranged from $21,000 for the bottom 10 percent to $52,000 for the top 10 percent. In 2002, median earnings were around $33,000.