Careers as a Social Worker

Social workers report high job satisfaction from helping people in need, and they continue to be in high demand.

October 4, 2021

Careers as a Social Worker

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Different Ways to Use Your Social Work Degree

Social work is a rapidly growing field that promises variety and challenges to those who choose to enter it. Social work degree holders report high job satisfaction from helping people in need, and they continue to be in high demand. With a wide array of careers available, those interested in this field can choose the right path by finding out about some of the different specializations and what they entail, as well as future trends in the area of social work.

Emerging Careers in Social Work

The overall job outlook for social work is positive, with certain areas poised to make even more rapid advances than others. People are always going to need skilled and empathetic individuals to help them through difficult times, but the number and types of people seeking social workers, and the tools used to help those clients, are likely to change. Social workers will have plenty of careers to choose from as industries and fields outside the realm of traditional social work begin to tap into their resources, and as mainstay specializations within the field see increased demand. Here are some up-and-coming fields in social work:

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Career Paths in Social Work

Social workers are found in many different settings; hospitals, schools, correctional facilities and government agencies all need qualified people to provide aid to clients. Social workers may work with children, the elderly, substance abuse victims, people with mental illnesses, or even entire communities. With so many choices, individuals can focus on a concentration that is tailored to their preferences for the types of clients they help, what kinds of aid they give, and where they work. Common social work concentrations include children and families, mental health, healthcare, community, and addiction and substance abuse.

Outlook and Salary Potential in Social Work

While employment growth for social workers depends on the specialty and geographical location, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the overall field will grow faster than the average for all occupations. Even though average earnings for social workers can vary markedly—nearly $50,000 separates the top earners from the bottom—chances of landing a job in the social work field are good. Between 2014 and 2024, overall job growth is projected at 12 percent, but particular specialties may see substantially higher increases. Aging populations, increased use of substance abuse treatment programs to replace jail time, climbing student enrollment, and budget constraints of various institutions are all part of the equation.

Social Work JobAverage SalaryGrowth Outlook
Child, Family, and School Social Worker $42,12012%
Healthcare Social Worker$51,93019%
Correctional Treatment Specialist$49,0604%
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker$41,38019%
Social and Community Service Manager$62,74010%

Social Work Salary by State

In addition to specialty area, location plays a large part in determining the salaries of social workers. The following states offer the highest median wages for social workers in the U.S.

RankStateMedian Salary
1.California $67,860
2.Connecticut$64,540
3.District of Columbia$64,390
4.Nevada$62,300
5.Oregon$61,500
6.Rhode Island$59,990
7.New York$58,590
8.New Jersey $58,220
9.Massachusetts$57,740
10.New Hampshire$57,630

Top Skills for a Career in Social Work

Social workers often work in stressful and highly emotional circumstances, so it is important that they have strong professional skills to effectively guide clients through tough situations. Social workers address a range of needs for a variety of clients, but certain skills are necessary for social workers of all specializations. These include:

Certifications and Licenses

All social workers must be licensed or certified, although these vary from state to state. Certain requirements, however, stand across the board, and optional certifications are available as well.

Top 5 Certifications or Licenses for a Career in Social Work

Most social workers need to graduate from an institution accredited by this national nonprofit organization in order to become licensed. Comprised of social work regulatory boards, the nonprofit ASWB administers licensure exams for all states. About 3,000 hours, or approximately two years, of supervised clinical experience is needed to become a licensed clinical social worker. Prospective LCSWs also need to pass an exam. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers a variety of optional credentials that social workers can get in various specialties, like military, gerontology, youth and family, addictions and case management, among others. NASW also offers two leadership credentials, the Academy of Certified Social Workers credential and the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work credential, to NASW members.

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