In a nutshell, social workers provide vital help, support and guidance to people with social problems. They empower the service users they work with to overcome adversity and make important life choices.
Social workers can use their expertise to help all kinds of people, from drug users, young offenders and victims of abuse, to people with mental health problems, learning difficulties and physical disabilities.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be meeting with service users (and their families where applicable), asking them questions, and discussing their specific issues and social problems.
Following this assessment period, you’ll analyse the service user’s assessment history, prepare a detailed case and put together a support plan, which will help them to overcome their problems.
Furthermore, you’ll be providing service users with counselling and useful information, which will allow them to access the relevant support and guidance they need. From time to time, this may involve referring service users to other organisations. You may also be required to attend tribunals and court hearings when service users in your caseload are involved.
Being a social worker, however, is not all about the hands-on support work. You’ll also be responsible for maintaining accurate records of your dealings with service users for future reference, legal queries and other compliance requirements.
Furthermore, part of your job will involve liaising with other organisations, social care providers and agencies to resolve problems and find service users the right kind of support. Additionally, you’ll need to keep constantly up to date on changes in legislation, as well as social, economic and political trends.
The majority of social workers are employed by government welfare departments, social services, charities, not-for-profit organisations and healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, hospices and care centres. Furthermore, some social work professionals work in schools, colleges and universities.
Salary & benefits
Starting salaries for social workers in the early stages of their careers range between £19,000 and £30,000 per annum, while social workers in managerial roles can earn between £30,000 and £45,000.
Senior social workers with more than ten years’ experience can earn up to £60,000.
Social workers usually work between 35 and 40 hours per week. However, the average working day is likely to involve working outside of regular office hours, and social workers may occasionally be required to work at weekends and on national holidays.
To become a social worker, you will need a degree in social work. If your first degree is not in social work, you will need to do a relevant postgraduate qualification. To be eligible for the postgraduate course, you will need a strong undergraduate degree (2:2 minimum), preferably in a relevant subject, such as psychology, sociology, social sciences or social care.
The degree programme should be accredited by the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) and should involve a significant amount of practical training.
Generally, you will need to be patient, empathetic, non-judgmental, logical and analytical. Great communication skills are another absolute must.
Training & progression
All qualified social workers need to register with the HCPC. To maintain this membership, all social workers need to constantly update their skills and take part in regular training sessions. With the help of the HCPC, you can do this in a structured, methodical way via their post-qualification training programme.
You can also obtain other useful qualifications, such as a Diploma in Health & Social Services Management (Dip HSSM) or a Certificate in Managing Health & Social Care (Cert MHSC).
Opportunities for career progression include specialising in a particular area of social work, or taking on a role with managerial responsibilities.
However, progressing into a more senior role will often mean moving away from the hands-on side of social work. Indeed, you’ll be focusing more on management and administration than interacting directly with service users.