The term “social work” can point to a variety of different occupations in a huge range of settings. Simply put, any job that revolves around helping people improve their quality of life by looking at their social capital is classed as social work. Most often, a social worker will be involved with children and families. Someone in that unit may have a disability, a substance abuse problem, a criminal history or an illness. The most common employers are schools, government agencies, medical facilities and police departments.
Education and Skills Needed to Be a Social Worker
The exact requirements to become a social worker vary between states. A handful of states will accept an associate’s degree for someone to get started in the career but most will require a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) as a minimum. Indeed, those that do accept an associate’s degree will only allow it for very limited responsibilities such as clerical tasks and office work. An increasing number of states require their social workers to be master’s degree (MSW) educated. Additionally, all social workers have to complete a number of supervised clinical working hours in order to become licensed.
Social work employers also require a number of other skills, most notably soft skills. They want graduates to demonstrate that they truly want to help others to have a better quality of life. Hence, you need to have strong social skills and even a bit of charisma. Getting trained in problem solving and conflict resolution is also very important. You must be able to deal with very difficult situations and clients. Although you will not be a lawyer, you will be expected to have some understanding of regulations and laws. This is also because you will frequently have to appear in court to support the people you are working with.
It may be possible to become a social worker without holding a BSW or MSW degree, but you will need at least a degree in a liberal art. This could be something like criminal justice, education or counseling. However, in this case, you will generally only be allowed to perform very limited duties pertaining specifically to your degree field.
Where Social Workers Are Employed
It would be impossible to list all the different employment opportunities that exist for social workers. The vast majority of social workers are employed in institutions that deal with foster care and abuse, however. Unfortunately, it is also in this field that the pay is the lowest.
The second most popular employer is the school district. As a social worker, you will be able to deal with children with special educational needs. Additionally, you will be able to address the needs of school children who are in state care. You will generally be a bridge or liaison officer between educational attainment and domestic life. As such, you will be somewhat of a guidance counselor, ensuring children are able to graduate, get into college and meet their career goals.
Next on the list are the hospitals. Every hospital in the country employs at least one social worker. Here, your role will be to ensure patients are able to meet their care goals and enhance their overall quality of life. You can help complete insurance paperwork and help them understand their legal situation. If there is a need for out-patient services or long-term care, you will work together with the patient and their family to make these arrangements as smoothly as possible. You will need to provide information on the different options that are out there and liaise with various providers and institutions to ensure the best possible outcomes for individuals.
If you go on to study towards a doctorate degree, a range of other career options exist. For instance, you can work for the government to analyze social data, or you can become a social work educator at a university. These positions are not as stressful as those with direct contact with clients. Additionally, they are the best paid positions. However, there is not much demand, which means that you may find yourself overqualified for regular social work positions, which can be very frustrating. It is probably for this reason that the majority of social workers only achieve an MSW degree.
The salary for a social worker is perhaps not as fantastic as people may expect considering their responsibilities, but it certainly isn’t poor either. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage was $40,680 in 2011. For the top 10%, the salary was $70,000 and above and the bottom 25% earned around $32,250.
There is huge variation in salary depending on the type of employer, geographical location and educational achievement. The educational system and hospital settings tend to pay the best. Substance abuse settings often pay the worst.
It is important to understand that social workers also enjoy a lot of employment benefits. They have a very secure position, for instance. However, burnout rates are also very high. This is why it is very important to have a strong character and to have good coping strategies in terms of how to deal with the work that you are given on a day-to-day basis. The more senior you get, the more flexibility you will have in terms of managing your caseload. Generally speaking, benefits such as paid leave, sick pay and health insurance are provided as standard to social workers.