The desire to help others is something that holds our society together. Whether it’s caring for our senior parents or volunteering at a food shelter in the winter, there are so many people working non-stop to help and support those more vulnerable or less fortunate.
Some people will take this kindness up a level and consider a career in a person-centered field like social work. Social workers don’t always get the credit they deserve, but they’re certainly unsung heroes of local communities.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in social work, here is everything you need to know before diving in.
What is social work?
Social work relates to roles where the main purpose is to build bridges between people and resources or support communities through stress and trauma.
There are so many people in need in society, meaning there are plenty of different fields within the social work industry to get your teeth into. Everyone from seniors struggling with the challenges that come with aging to toxic families, addicts, or those suffering from mental illness are deemed ‘vulnerable’, and you’ll be able to provide them support.
The pros and cons of social work
As with any industry, there are pros and cons to working in social work.
The first thing to know is just how rewarding social work can be. You’ll be helping people through extremely difficult times – which may hugely differ from the life you’re used to – and have a massively positive impact on their lives.
No two days are the same, and you’ll certainly feel like all your work has a real purpose.
However, this rewarding feeling doesn’t come without its challenges. Social work can be emotionally and physically challenging. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll likely hear about things that nobody should have to go through.
As you and other social workers will go through similar experiences during your career, you’ll benefit from an incredibly strong support network to help you through the more difficult times.
With all the emotional value a career in social work can provide, it is worth knowing that not many jobs in the field hold lucrative salaries. Most organizations are dependent on funding or volunteers, meaning there are very few people who will gain a high salary.
How to become a social worker
While some people find themselves falling into social work through volunteering or work experience, the best way to secure a career in the field is by obtaining a degree in social work or sociology.
However, before committing to a degree course, it’s a good idea to speak to professionals in the field that interests you. Social workers in your local area will be more than happy to set up a time to talk about their careers, what you can expect from the work, and whether or not they recommend it. This should give you a little more perspective on whether the work is right for you.
From there, you can get applying for courses that appeal to you.
Gaining a degree in social work will combine both theory and practical work or placements. While studying, you can also gain experience in the field by networking, gaining contacts, and keeping your eye out for internships.
How to find a job in social work
Once you’ve graduated, there will be plenty of open doors into a fulfilling career. Unfortunately, there will always be vulnerable people, but as someone looking to work in the field, this is beneficial for your career.
However, rather than diving into the first job you see, it’s worth sitting back and really thinking about which area you’d like to work in. Look out for jobs that you can see progression for the future or a role that offers flexibility if you have to balance your work with other engagements.
Jobs in social work vary massively, meaning you’ll need to think about what really interests you. This might mean you need to specialize within your degree or do additional qualifications once you’ve graduated.
What to do in your first job in social work
So, you’ve graduated, you’ve secured your first job. What’s next?
First of all, congratulations! Now it’s time to think about where you go from here.
The first few months are potentially nerve-wracking as you might be thrown into the deep end unexpectedly. It will be hugely challenging but incredibly rewarding.
On your first day, try to find some time to speak to your employer about the support available or any additional resources you can utilize. You could also discuss potential progression routes in your current organization.
Another thing to remember is to build your support network. Friends, families, and colleagues can help to make each day that bit easier – even when you’re working with really difficult scenarios.
How to progress in your social work career
There are plenty of ways to progress your career in social work and so many specialisms to explore.
You’ll often find that progression isn’t always prioritized by those in social work. As with any tier-based career, the higher you progress, the less hands-on work you do. People tend to go into social work to work closely with vulnerable people and often avoid promotions to keep doing the job they love.
That said, if you do want to progress, PR or public advocacy for your organization is a great way to do it. By sharing stories from your work with larger businesses, charities, or even policymakers, you can make a significant difference to a wide range of communities.
If you find yourself working for an international organization, there may also be an opportunity to travel overseas to continue your hands-on work in a new environment.
There’s no denying that it can be exciting to climb through the ranks. However, when it comes to social work, most people will remember their first role experiences for much longer than their senior position work.
There are, of course, highs and lows in social work, but for those looking to make a difference and help people every day, it’s certainly an industry to consider. If you’re an empathetic individual hoping to care for and support less fortunate people, you will find social work incredibly fulfilling.