This career isn’t for everyone. As a social worker, you’ll be tackling some of the most complex problems in society. Not only do you need to have the right experience and qualifications, you also need to be caring, communicative and a great problem-solver.
In the United Kingdom, there’s currently a shortage of social workers. In fact, according to a report by Skills for Care for 2017/2018, ten percent of social worker positions were vacant. So, if you become a qualified social worker, it should be easy to find a job after graduation.
What is a social worker?
As a social worker, you would strive to improve people’s lives by assisting them with your interpersonal and social skills. You would also protect adults and children from harm, and promote human rights. Working unsociable hours is not uncommon, and the job often includes shift work.
What do social workers actually do?
Social workers work in a variety of settings, from visiting residential houses to working in care facilities. You could work for NHS trusts, local authorities, voluntary sectors or private sectors. Each one includes a diverse base of clients.
As well as helping adults and children, you would assist elderly people, people with disabilities, people with mental health problems, families under immense stress and people with addictions. The role of a social worker is a demanding and emotional job, but it’s a very rewarding one too.
In the role of a social worker, you would work with lots of people at any one time. This is what’s known as a caseload. Your daily work would involve helping those people to assess their needs, wishes and strengths.
You would also work with families or individuals to help them make positive changes in their lives and solve problems.
Social Worker Job Description
There are a number of different areas that social workers can work in, so the job description can change accordingly. However, the role generally involves assessing and counselling clients and offering them advice, writing reports, arranging appropriate care or resources for clients, attending or contributing to cases in court and managerial and budgetary administration.
You would be dealing with people struggling in a variety of situations. These could include people who have been affected by poverty, trauma, abuse, or chronic or terminal illnesses. Many social workers choose to focus on one area of expertise though. For example, you could specialise in:
- Family, child or school social work, which involves assisting children and families with social or psychological functioning. You could assist parents, address abuse issues, locate foster homes or arrange adoptions. If you work in a school, you would deal with issues like bad behaviour, truancy and teenage pregnancy.
- Addictions and mental health social work, which involves helping people with addictions or mental health problems by providing support and services. This could include intervening during crises, advising family members, client advocacy, case management and group counselling.
- Public health social work, which involves assisting people with chronic or life-threatening illnesses and disorders. You would help patients to connect to resources that can help them cope. You would assist in patient education, hospital discharge, giving advice to patients’ families and organizing support groups too.
Key Skills for a Social Worker
If you want to become a social worker, you must be able to cope with traumatic situations. You’ll have to be committed, flexible and patient. Having excellent analytical and problem-solving skills is also a big plus. Social workers need to be resilient too.
The work is emotionally-charged, as you’ll regularly be working with people who are in crisis. You therefore need to be able to look after your own emotional needs as much as those of your clients. Other key skills required for this profession include:
- Creative and Critical Thinking: You need to be able to think quickly to make important decisions and solve problems.
- Organisation: Covering several cases at the same time is no easy task, so you must be very organised to juggle caseloads and deal with other areas of work like liaising with agencies.
- Interpersonal Skills: To be a social worker, it’s crucial you’re able to work with people from all backgrounds.
- Listening: You must have active listening skills. This means you pay attention and accurately remember what people have told you.
- Communication: Being able to communicate both verbally and in the written word is vital in this job role. You’ll be talking to clients face-to-face as well as over the telephone. You will also be presenting cases to your colleagues and making written referrals.
- Establishing Trust: You need to use appropriate responses and body language to gain the trust of your clients.
- Computer Skills: Having up-to-date IT skills is a must. You’ll need to maintain accurate records of all your cases electronically.
Useful Work Experience
You’re unlikely to be accepted onto a relevant degree course to secure a job as a social worker if you have zero experience. There are two ways you can gain the experience required for a social work career. The first is by getting employment in a job that involves caring.
You could work in a care home, a day care centre or a school. The more experience you have of being professionally involved with people’s welfare or working with children and families, the more-ready you’ll be to train to become a social worker.
The second way of gaining experience is perhaps the best method. By taking voluntary positions, you can gain invaluable experience of working with adults, children and families. You will also make useful contacts that could help you to secure work in the future.
More than anything, working in a voluntary capacity shows you are committed to social work and that you genuinely care.
You could volunteer at a number of different places, such as care homes, community centres, youth clubs, homeless shelters, mental health charities, victim support organisations and charity phone line support services.
Average Salaries for a Social Worker
Most social workers work for local authorities, charities, health organisations and private businesses, although some social workers prefer to work independently by setting up their own companies. The amount you can earn as a social worker depends on the organisation you work for.
Salaries differ depending on the location and your level of experience too. As a newly-qualified social worker, you would typically earn around £25,000 per year. In addition, many employers offer a range of benefits, such as annual leave pay and pensions. With years of experience, you could expect to earn over £40,000 per year.
Qualifications for a Social Worker
If you’re serious about becoming a social worker, you first need to obtain a Bachelor’s degree or a Master’s degree in social work. These aren’t just academic courses. Half of the time involves a work placement, where you’ll receive training and hands-on experience. The academic portion of your course will involve learning about ethics, legislation and theory.
The requirements to gain entry to either of these degree programmes differ from course to course. Typically, you will need at least 240 UCAS points.
For example: five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including the subjects of maths and English, and two A Levels. In Scotland, entry requirements for a degree in social work tend to be four Highers. In Norther Ireland, the requirements tend to be a minimum of one A-grade A Level and two B-grade A Levels.
If you already have a degree with a 2:1 grade in another subject and you want to specialise in working with families and children, you can apply for the Frontline Step-Up to Social Work fast-track programme. This programme is not available in Scotland.
There are many ways you can progress in your career as a social worker. Most involve training for another aspect of the industry. Due to the flexible nature of shift working in social work professions, it’s easy to undertake training while on the job.
If you want to progress in your career to earn a higher salary, it’s best to train in specialist areas, such as homelessness or geriatric care. Also, there are often certain sectors of the social work industry that are in high demand from time to time, so you could take advantage of the job demand and train for a position within that field. This is an opportunity to climb the career ladder and get paid better.
The highest-paying jobs in social work are positions with managerial responsibilities. To advance to a management level, you’ll need to have a diverse range of skills from various fields. You’ll also need additional skills, such as using departmental IT systems.
Social work is one of the most demanding and rewarding jobs out there. You must be caring and empathic towards people but also emotionally resilient. You need to have excellent interpersonal, communication and organisational skills too.
By doing work experience and getting a degree in social work, you can begin your career of helping people in unsettling circumstances. There are many areas of social work you can specialise in. The more skills and experience you gain, the more you can progress in your career.