Getting Started as a Social Worker

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As demand for health care and social services in the U.S. increases, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 12 percent growth in job opportunities for social workers from 2014 to 2024. This above-average growth suggests that social work is a great choice for compassionate people interested in helping others. Find out how to get your career as a social worker started.

Assess Your Aptitude for the Work

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Dr. Latonia S. Johnson, writing for The New Social Worker, says social workers should be empathetic to the problems of others and trustworthy enough to encourage others to open up to them. Flexibility, creativity, and a willingness to help others are also important characteristics of the best social workers.

Community Care, a leading British social work jobs and news website, notes that social workers should be caring and patient, as helping people share and deal with problems can take time. Community Care also emphasizes strong communication skills, as both speaking and listening are essential to social workers, and excellent organization and time management abilities.

Earn the Necessary Degree

According to U.S. News & World Report, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social work can become case workers or mental health assistants. However, a Master of Social Work or an equivalent degree, such as a Master of Science in Social Administration, is a required degree if one wants to become a clinical social worker, the U.S. News & World Report notes. Graduate students can receive this advanced degree through a two-year course, but studies may be accelerated through some programs, such as online degrees.

The Association of Social Work Boards notes your degrees should be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, Canadian Association for Social Work Education, or another nationally recognized body.

Get Experience in the Field

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that candidates must have at least two years of post-master’s-degree experience working in a supervised clinical environment before working as a clinical social worker.

This step can also help you decide whether a career in social work is a fit for you. Nicholas Rutledge, writing for The New Social Worker, explains the disconnect that sometimes exists between study and the workplace. He recalls a professor who told him, “Graduate school is education, not training.”

While a degree equips students with the skills and insights needed to operate effectively in various social work positions, the degree program itself doesn’t provide the day-to-day realities of work in the field, Rutledge observes.

To overcome this situation, many universities require students to gain field experience as part of their social work degree studies. The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western University states that the field education experienceallows its students to apply their online studies to the social work field, thereby “connecting theory with real-life social work situations.” In addition, field education allows these students to hone the specific skills they’ll need in their future social work careers.

Gain State Licensure

Clinical social workers must also have a valid license in the state they’re practicing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to meeting the educational requirements, candidates must pass a four-hour test administered by the Association of Social Work Boards.

No U.S. states have reciprocity, according to the Association of Social Work Boards. When you move to a new state, you must get a new state license.

With educational training and practical experiences in the field, you can gain the knowledge and skills necessary to get started in your career as a social worker. Resources such as the Association of Social Work Boards and other professional sources can also help you continually stay updated on trends and issues affecting the field of social work.