Social work is one of those careers that most people have certainly heard of but don’t know much about. So, it may surprise you to learn that social workers do a lot more than work in public welfare settings. In fact, as our population is growing, changing and aging, there’s more need, and thus there are more opportunities for people with a passion for working with individuals and communities to make lives better in more personal ways. And not only that, but social work is one of the more stable and recession-proof fields there is.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that job openings in the field of social work will be increasing at a much-faster-than-average rate of 16 percent over the next eight years. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for jobs in the profession, but a masters in social work open even greater opportunities at the entry level as well as for advancement and leadership positions.
Social workers don’t just work with children and families. They also contribute in meaningful ways in the fields of healthcare, education, business, philanthropy and the greater community.
Here are some other things that you probably don’t know about social work:
Jobs Are Available in a Wide Range of Settings
Careers in social work range from working one-on-one with people in nonprofit and governmental organizations and in private clinical practice to serving in administrative roles and positions affecting social change on a larger scale. The greatest number of opportunities for social workers, as well as among the highest salaries, are typically in hospitals, clinics and public health services. But the corporate world is increasingly hiring social workers to create workplace programs and outside volunteer service for employees as well as to direct a company’s charitable activities.
You might find a spot you love working in a:
- Hospital, clinic or hospice
- Long-term or rehabilitative care facility
- Family services agency
- Child welfare organization
- Adoption or foster care agency
- School or university counseling service
- Military or veterans affairs medical or counseling center
- Mental health or substance abuse center
- Vocational rehabilitation center
- Correctional facility or rehabilitation center
- Corporate human resources department
- Philanthropic organization
Social Workers Provide a Variety of Services
Your talents and abilities can be used and stretched to help people in a variety of ways. For example, you might apply them to:
- Guiding seniors and their families through the challenges that aging brings.
- Making sure children are safe and cared for properly, and keeping families intact.
- Coordinating services for students with developmental issues or learning disabilities.
- Providing support services to military personnel, veterans and their families.
- Directing educational outreach and managing community health and wellness services.
- Working to create laws and government programs.
- Helping community and advocacy groups to organize and help themselves.
- Providing crisis intervention and other vital services during natural disasters.
- Maintaining a private practice to provide individual or group therapy.
What It Takes to Become a Social Worker
Wondering how to become a social worker? Some positions require only a bachelor’s degree, but advancing in the field to supervisory positions or clinical work requires a master of social work (MSW). The good news is you don’t have to have an undergraduate degree in social work to enter a master’s program. Even better news is that you can earn your MSW online while you’re already employed.
Any good social work program will include practica, fieldwork and/or internships where you will put your knowledge into practice in supervised conditions. These experiences are not only valuable to your education, but they are also important for networking and may lead directly to employment with the same team you’ve trained with after you graduate.
Professional licensing requirements vary by state and include Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Independent Social Worker (SW) and a number of other designations depending upon where you live and what kind of practice you’re entering.
You Won’t Be Alone out There
According to the National Association of Social Workers, there are over 650,000 social workers in the U.S., and there are more clinically trained social workers than there are psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nurses combined. The NASW provides information and career support to its 132,000 members in chapters across the country, and membership is available to social work students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
There are many other good resources for more information about the field and whether it could be the right choice for you, no matter where you live or where you want to work.