Social work plays an essential role in the community, supporting families and individuals through difficult and vulnerable moments of their lives. Whether it’s saving victims from incidents of abuse, guiding an addict to the closest rehab, or mentoring new social workers, the work never stops.
Social work is also highly in-demand, with a growth rate of 12% for this decade and beyond. As a result, you get to be in the rare position to have a stable income, have a rewarding career, and make a difference in people’s lives.
But before you can enjoy the perks of a prosperous profession, you will need to hustle a bit. Therefore, to help you earn a name for yourself, here’s what you need to do:
1. Upskill by continuing education
Social work requires you to stay on top of your field by learning all you can about your role. You need to know the latest research, pick up new techniques while working with clients, and learn from the experts themselves. While a bachelor’s degree in social work can help you start your career, it is not enough. Your lack of knowledge and expertise will hinder you from excelling in your career.
Therefore, get yourself a master’s degree. You don’t even have to go back to school full time or spend a large sum of money preparing for tests like the GRE. Instead, you can easily do an online masters in social work no GRE–required and fast-track your career. An online degree is as lucrative as earning one from traditional schooling. You will still need to invest two years of your life, pursue at least 60 credits in coursework and spend over 900 hours in clinical practice. This gives you a deeper insight into social issues like poverty, unemployment, mental health, and disabilities.
2. Don’t limit yourself to one skill
Working as a social worker will require cultivating a host of soft skills. Developing transferable skills makes you invaluable in your profession and gives you a springboard for when you decide to branch out. For instance, you can improve communication by improving your case study write-ups, documentary evidence, and clinical notes.
It is always best to dip your feet into a bit of human resource management (HRM). For instance, when you supervise recruits and train them as potential social workers, you also teach yourself how to be a better trainer and align yourself to your subordinate’s needs.
You can also make for an excellent project manager by taking the lead on different projects and seeing them through. These skills don’t go unnoticed by potential companies looking for talented employees. So whether you want to try your hand in social work management positions or work in a new field, your newly acquired talent will help.
3. Push yourself to specialize
Specialization will open more opportunities for you as a social worker. You can choose one of three paths if you wish to specialize right away. These include specializing as a practitioner, educator, or manager.
- Practitioner. If you go down the practitioner route, such as becoming a consultant social worker, your job will require you to be a leader by guiding recruits and supervising other social workers. You may even work complex child abuse cases, designing a treatment route and helping victims find help.
- Educator. As an educator, you will instruct, teach and facilitate other professionals within social work. Your job includes teaching these workers to use their skills, demonstrating helpful practices, and providing resources to read.
- Manager. Managers are all about managing and motivating teams. You will need to ensure that the workers under your jurisdiction do their job, submit the relevant paperwork, and do not abandon cases. At the same time, you will guide those in need of social services to help. A social services director is an excellent example of this specialization.
If you are unsure how to become a specialized professional, start by participating in the National Association of Social Workers. You will find like-minded professionals, participate in advocacy groups, and make connections. It will help you learn about the path you want to take with a first-hand view and give you confidence about your choice.
4. Contribute to your profession as much as you can
Becoming an active worker will help you build your skills as a social worker. No matter what field you occupy, you need to become more proactive. You should start conducting workshops, guest lectures, and even peer-review journals.
For instance, if you are a mental health social worker, you can discuss people’s most common mental health issues. You can also talk about what treatment methods you tried out were successful and what made things take a turn for the worst.
You can also push for policy changes such as better access to women’s health services, more funding for urban schools, and less racial disparity in healthcare through a series of petitions. Your active involvement in your career will help you stand out, get a chance to collaborate with others, and build on your network.
5. Know the risks
Social work also requires you to put your health on the line. Unless you are prepared to tackle the profession’s stress, frustrations, and fatigue, progressing is difficult. Your career will expose you to harmful environments where you will witness horrible cases of violence, meet resistant clients and even deal with violent outbursts. Sometimes, the law may not be on your side and dismiss the evidence you collected. While these situations can be disheartening and take a toll on your well-being, you need to persist.
As a social worker, you should look into getting physical therapy for injuries in the work field, such as dealing with an aggressive client or hurting yourself in an ill-maintained building. Be sure you seek counseling to deal with the chronic anxiety, PTSD, and depression from witnessing gruesome cases. You should also teach yourself coping mechanisms such as deep breathing and humming to maintain professionalism, remain patient, and not get frustrated while working.
6. Don’t give up on your clients
Not every client you meet will be forthcoming. They will offer you resistance, go into denial or completely discard your authority. This is a natural part of the job, and you should expect these reactions. Victims stuck in abusive households, living with a lack of employment opportunities, or are addicts will choose to stick to the toxic cycle they have developed for themselves.
You will need to continuously visit, talk, guide and show needleless empathy for their circumstances. If you are dealing with a recovering addict, some of your clients will relapse and need you to start from scratch. So, don’t hesitate to go the extra mile for your clients, work with them, find them pro-bono lawyers, and shift them to safe foster homes. If your client loses a custody battle, figure out how you can work with the law to repeal the case.
Social work is a pivotal part of a growing and expanding community. As a worker, you will be responsible for the population’s welfare. So, to do your job to the best of your abilities and ensure you can progress in your field, you need to put in the grunt work. This includes obtaining a master’s degree, looking into specializing, and becoming an active contributor in your field.
You should also improve your transferable skills and make yourself an indispensable asset to different sectors. Don’t forget to actively work on your well-being to prevent health hazards from making your work harder. When you are ready, try your luck in different sectors within your field and branch out.