A social worker is someone who helps individuals develop their relationships with others and to society in general. Social workers help clients with marital, familial, financial, substance abuse, employment, and many other issues. A social worker’s main task is to counsel the individuals in need of their services and lead them to more productive lives. They are often assigned several individuals or families for whom they are responsible.
This article describes the job expectations for a social worker and outlines the education and other requirements needed to become one. The 10-year employment outlook and expected earnings for social workers are also discussed.
Social workers are employed in a variety of settings, from schools to government programs to private businesses. Social workers often have a specialization, such as family services, drug and alcohol abuse, or unemployment. The social worker’s specialization often determines his or her work environment, hours, conditions, and expectations. Most social workers carry several cases at a time, dealing with many different families or individuals each week. A social worker’s job is often very stressful, but very rewarding for individuals who enjoy helping others and working with people in general.
The primary specializations of social workers are:
Child, family, and school services
medical and public health services
Mental health and substance abuse services
Types of social workers also include administrators, researchers, planners, and policymakers, who develop and implement programs designed to alleviate issues affecting society, such as child abuse, homelessness, substance abuse, poverty, and violence.
Education and Other Requirements
The minimum requirement to become a social worker is a bachelor’s degree. Employers prefer a degree in social work, although for some entry-level jobs, a psychology degree or in a related field like sociology may be suitable. For many jobs, a master’s degree in social work is required, especially for positions in health, school, and clinical work.
The general rule is, a bachelor’s degree will qualify you to work directly with clients, and a master’s degree will qualify you for a more advanced position, such as a supervisory or research-based position.
For many social work positions, continuing education hours are required, to keep employees up to date on the latest research and developments in their field.
Accreditation, Certification, Registration, and Licensure
In every state, there are requirements for certification, registration, and licensure to become a social worker. It is recommended that you research the rules and regulations for the state in which you want to work. Generally, social workers employed by the government are required to be licensed and registered with the state and to hold certain certifications and accreditations. In most cases, private employers will require job candidates to be licensed and certified, but certain accreditations may only be preferred.
10-Year Employment Outlook
Job opportunities for social workers are expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate for all occupations. Job security for social workers is expected to remain strong.
There are currently over 640,000 individuals working as social workers. About half of those jobs are in the healthcare and social assistance industries, and many are government jobs. Most social work positions are in cities or suburban areas; fewer job opportunities are available in rural areas.
The great number of elderly and soon-to-be elderly Americans is causing an increase in need for social workers in gerontological social work. Medical and public health social work positions are also expected to increase at a rate much faster than average for all occupations.
Demand for family, child, and school social workers is expected to remain about the same. The fastest growing job market for social workers is in mental health and substance abuse, since courts are increasingly sentencing individuals to attend rehabilitation programs or classes rather than complete a prison sentence.
Below are the breakdowns for social worker earnings based on the area of expertise:
Child, Family, and School – working in public schools, government, family services, and residential care facilities
- Median: $40,000
- Middle range: $31,000 to $52,000
- Overall range: $25,000 to $67,000
Medical and Public Health – working in hospitals, local government, residential care facilities, home healthcare, and individual and family services
- Median: $47,000
- Middle range: $35,000 to $58,000
- Overall range: $28,000 to $69,000
Mental Health and Substance Abuse – working in out- and inpatient facilities, individual and family services, and residential care facilities
- Median: $37,000
- Middle range: $29,000 to $49,000
- Overall range: $22,000 to $62,000