The top 5 careers for aspiring social workers include careers jobs working with different populations and multiple locations. A desire to be a social worker is a passion. This is an innate calling to someone who, by definition is devoted to and cares about people, who wants to make people’s lives better, and who wants to relieve human suffering. It’s a career with real meaning and gravitas.
Careers in Social Work
Social work is a profession devoted to helping people function the best they can in their environment. This can mean providing direct services or therapy directly to clients. It also can mean working for change to improve social conditions.
What Degree Do I Need For A Career in Social Work?
Many individuals with career aspirations in social work wonder what degree they need to establish a career. To help answer that question, we have a list of the Top 10 Online Social Work Bachelor’s Degree Programs to help you on your path to being a professional and give you the foundation needed for future studies in an MSW program.
The list below reflects niche careers within the social work field that project good job prospects and pay well. It should be pointed out that social workers do not earn, on average, what psychologists do. But certain specialties within the field can pay handsomely. Not that social workers necessarily go into their field purely for monetary purposes. To that end, we’ll list average salaries as computed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Salary.com.
Job Growth in Social Work
Your prospects in this field, overall, are good. The 2020 BLS explains that employment opportunities are expected to increase faster than average from 2020 to 2030, with a projected growth rate of twelve percent (12%). Furthermore, every year over 78,000 openings are expected in the field.
The reasoning behind that projection is simple. A growing older population creates a more significant need for social services, particularly in gerontology. So where are the jobs be? Substance abuse programs, nursing homes, hospice, and long-term care facilities.
One note of caution. While generalized social workers can find good family-sustaining jobs, many employers do look for social workers with a master’s degree. Therefore, this posting concerns undergraduate social workers.
1. Child Welfare Social Workers
This can be a gut wrench niche but also one where you can actually save the life of a child. [And is therefore particularly fulfilling.] A child welfare social worker needs the compassion and sensitivity required to deal with children in crisis intervention. And you may have to deal with abusive parents. The job isn’t easy. In other cases, you might have to work with children from lower-income families in need of the basics all children need…clothing, food, and proper schooling. So this posting has a particular meaning: a friend of this writer is in child protective services. He protects children and intervenes when the child’s life is in danger. He meets with parents and reports on the treatment of their children. And when the child is believed to be in trouble, child welfare workers facilitate the removal of that child and place them in a safe alternative environment.
Mean Average Salary: $25,000-$47,000, and a lot of that depends on the location and the employer.
2. Case Managers
This is a broad field within the social worker universe of jobs. To be a case manager is to provide needed services to people, like basic transportation or even more basic needs like helping someone apply for food stamps or low-income housing. In some cases, you’ll deal with the homeless or chronically ill clients and hospice patients. The key is case managers act as liaisons between clients and the bureaucracy and other professionals who might be needed for your client’s well-being. It may require at home services. Where do they work: often in residential group homes, hospitals or hospices.
Mean Average Salary: $34,643, according to PayScale.com, but the pay range is anywhere from $27,180-$48,243
3. Public Health Social Workers
This is another specialty within the social worker field of employment. Here, the social worker primarily works within a community on various public health efforts to prevent public health problems. One of the special skills a public health social worker must have is the knowledge to work with government agencies, helping clients receive benefits. Also, this job could entail responding to familial crises, such as child abuse. Other professionals offer education, such as nutrition classes.
Mean Average Salary: $42,000, according to the BLS. The top 10 percent of public health workers average more than $70,000 (but at this salary range, typically the worker also has a master’s degree).
4. Substance Abuse Social Workers
Drugs are pervasive in our society so there is no more important field a social worker can concentrate on than substance abuse counseling. Substance abuse social workers find work in a variety of places, which might include rehab homes, prisons, and (get this) non-profit organizations. They help clients deal with the underlying issues that lead to addiction and help them build their support network for recovery. The work is highly fulfilling, but it is also one of the more emotionally demanding areas of social work since addiction is hard to treat. The folks you work with are in a constant struggle with their addictions. They require patience and compassion. More and more, courts are remanding lawbreakers who are also addicts to drug courts and recovery programs, instead of pure prison time. It saves money and more importantly, saves lives.
Mean Average Salary: $41,380, but the pay range according to the BLS is $25,770-$70,300. Where you fall within that range, as you might expect, will depend upon your level of experience, location, and employer.
5. Healthcare Social Workers
A career as a healthcare social worker is a good idea for those people who are comfortable helping others in times of physical (and sometimes mental) distress and chronic illness. A healthcare social worker would be adept (and trained to) provide psychological support during times of an individual’s crisis.
This is a specialty within the social work field. One of the things you might do to help someone is provide access to services related to health problems. What you want to achieve is to have your client healthy enough so that they are able to function in their daily lives. In a way, this social worker acts as a client advocate.
Mean Average Salary: $51,930. But the range of salaries varies by location. For example, in Mississippi, the mean salary is about $45,000, whereas in Massachusetts, about $58,000.
What Are Social Worker Career Goals and Why Are They Important?
Social work isn’t just one thing or one industry. Various disciplines and professions comprise social work, so it’s important that those who seek the profession consider their social worker career goals. But what are social work career goals when it comes to what social workers do?
Social work involves improving the life of people at both the individual level and the societal level. They accomplish this in several different ways. For this reason, applicants who consider social work would do well to have goals in mind before pursuing this profession.
Goals can change, especially as someone grows and advances in their social work career. However, this only means the applicant should reevaluate their goals and update them as necessary.
Still, what are some social work career goals? Here are some that can help an applicant start down the right path in social work. Some examples of professional goals for social workers include:
- Continuing education
- Gaining more experience
- Learning new skills
- Teaching others
- Pursuing a specialization
- Improving conditions for a specific demographic
- Contributing to social justice
Goals can and will vary depending on the individual. Some goals lead into others, and in this way, social work can represent a fulfilling and continuing lifelong pursuit and passion. It’s possible to look at some of these career goals in social work and see how they can often complement each other.
Continuing education isn’t just something that can help someone become more knowledgeable in a subject, it can represent a necessary ingredient in job advancement and professional growth. For some positions in social work, an applicant may need a higher degree, a certain type of training, a specific license, or a program that teaches toward a certification in an industry. Many educational organizations also offer career services.
All these forms of continuing education will also offer more experience for the applicant. Training and learning, especially in a hands-on environment, helps people to understand the nuances and real-world applications of what they’re learning. In the process, the applicant will learn new skills that lead to new career opportunities.
In the end, all the aforementioned may serve the applicant’s goal of becoming a teacher of others or gain them the qualifications they need to work for a specific demographic in a meaningful way. Some goals have a short-term nature, while some others are long-term aspirations.
As with any type of goal, it’s the short-term endeavors that often lead to long-term goal fulfillment. This is all part of professional development. Creating goals, pursuing them, and achieving milestones will help applicants develop and increase their value to employers and partners.
Professional development also helps social workers stay ahead of changes in their field. New models, ways of thinking, changing perspectives, and various other things that move a society forward will all play a role in social work. Career goals for social work, by necessity, will have to encompass those changes. Joining organizations like the National Association of Social Workers is also an important step.
How Do Social Workers Choose Career Goals to Pursue?
Social worker career goals come from the desires of the applicant. For someone fresh out of high school, the professional career goals can look a little more cut and dry. For example, such a person will want to pursue their degree, earn their licensing, and gain authentic experience working in the field.
Someone who has made it to that point will likely want to look into specializations. They must ask themselves what aspect of social work they have the most passion for. What social workers do can vary by industry, location, and various other things. For example, consider that social work can mean:
- Medical and public health
- Child and family
- Mental health
- Substance abuse
- Policy and political
- Criminal justice
Each of these categories of social work requires a basic education in the field, but heavy specialization later. For someone already in the field, professional social work career goals can mean looking for ways to advance or take on more responsibility in their chosen industry.
An applicant may want to earn more or learn how to work as a social worker in a particular industry for a specific entity. An applicant that knows what they want will create a series of career goals they can pursue to obtain what they desire from their social work career.
Career goals for social workers can also mean changing careers or industries. An applicant may feel they can do more good by switching from local social work to aiming for state social work, or even national social work. They will need to change or upgrade their goals to accommodate their greater ambition. This also applies if someone wants to make a lateral change in the social work field.
It’s always important to remember that social work changes right along with society. Some aspects may remain the same, but applicants may feel they would better service individuals or communities in different capacities as they grow and learn more about social work and their role in the process.
What If Someone Is Unsure of What Goals to Pursue?
For those unsure of which career goals in social work to pursue, there are several ways to go about it. A student learning the basics may see where their strengths and desires will want to lead them. Internships and shadowing can also help someone see how things work in some social work atmospheres.
Joining a professional organization can help someone to network, learn new ideas concerning social work, and see what others do that may look enticing to the applicant. Professional organizations exist in various capacities, from the national to the state to even the local levels. Some schools may also have social work organizations. Students can use an organization to see more of what’s out there and what’s possible.
Applicants can look at the job descriptions for social work positions they may have an interest in. In this way, they can see what’s expected of them and what skills have the most demand for any particular position. With this knowledge, an applicant can create a series of professional social worker career goals that will give them the skills and education they need to take on those positions.
In most cases, just starting with a passion for something can help to create social work career goals. If an applicant knows they want to work with children or victims of abuse, they can start to craft their career toward doing just that. It can take some research to learn which industries, sectors, and positions may give the best chances for someone to do what they desire, but the research itself can become a professional career goal.