If you are looking for a meaningful career where you can enact the change you want to see in the world, then being a social worker is worth considering. The job is all about enhancing human well-being with a particular focus on those living in poverty, vulnerable, and oppressed.
As members of a helping profession, social workers must possess certain qualities. The most important one is compassion. Given that you’ll be dealing with people in difficult situations, you need to be empathetic and be able to see the world through their eyes.
Other qualities that make a great social worker include listening skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills, and patience. On a more practical side, you need to have good organizational and time-management skills as you’ll be required to manage multiple clients at the same time. Entry-level positions usually require a bachelor’s degree in social work. But as you take a more specialized route like becoming a clinical social worker, you may need a master’s degree and fulfill licensing requirements.
Most social workers have a desire to help and improve other people’s lives. While it’s a noble profession, it has its downsides as well. Some of them can hinder social workers from providing good service to their clients, while others can result in adverse effects in their personal lives. To help you decide if social work is the right career path for you, here are:
10 Pros of Being a Social Worker
Social workers help people cope with all kinds of difficult situations, including poverty, illness, unemployment, addiction, divorce, discrimination, abuse, and so on. For instance, they can help a client get access to government assistance, support groups, or health care. At the end of the day, a social worker can look back and feel a sense of accomplishment that what they did had a positive impact on an individual, a family, or the entire community.
2. A profession in demand
The need for social work is long-lasting due to the simple fact that there will always be people and communities in need of resources. This occupation has kept growing due to the increase in life expectancy, unemployment trends, poverty, a growing aging population, the increase in the number of diseases, and so on. Social workers are educated in the subject area, which allows them to advocate for such people to get help. Everybody is looking for a good social worker, meaning jobs shouldn’t be hard to find.
3. Gain transferable skills
Down the road, you may decide that an occupation directly related to social work isn’t for you. People switch jobs for many reasons –maybe the pay isn’t enough, or the job is either too challenging or not challenging enough. The good news is many employers in other professions value the skills developed through social work courses or as a social worker. These skills include problem-solving, teamwork, effective communication, empathy, time management, etc.
4. It’s diverse
You can branch-off into one of the many different specialties in this field to become a pediatric social worker, mental health social worker, addiction social worker, or geriatric social worker. This allows you to work in a variety of work settings, including hospitals, government agencies, schools, non-profit organizations, prisons, nursing homes, clinics, or even internationally. The ability to choose from multiple work environment means you can choose one that works for you and allows you to help in the best way possible.
5. Opportunity for growth
You need a bachelor’s degree to get started in this field. Once that happens, there are plenty of opportunities for career advancement in social work. The more education you have, the more you’ll qualify for more advanced positions, including management positions, administrative roles, or even become a cabinet-level director. By earning a master’s degree in social work (MSW), you can advance faster than in some other professions.
6. Strong job outlook
Given how tough the job market can be, it’s important to consider future job access when choosing a profession to go into. The good news is the job outlook for this profession is very positive. This job market is set to increase by 10-15%. Jobs in some segments such as healthcare, substance abuse, or mental health social work, are expected to grow even faster. What this means is that studying social work guarantees more job opportunities for you in the future, which is not likely for many other professionals.
7. An opportunity to make a real difference
One of the best parts of being a social worker is it allows you to make a positive impact on other people’s lives. Social workers meet people at some of their lowest moments. It could be a young person who’s turned to crime, families living in poverty, seniors who are being mistreated, or victims of sexual abuse. Part of their job is to advocate for the rights of those individuals and provide resources to help them overcome difficulty. The opportunity to help someone –whether in a small or big way –is truly priceless.
8. Good pay
You may not make big money starting as a social worker, but your salary will exceed that of several other professions. Wages vary depending on your specialty and the type of employer. The average starting salary is about $45,000 a year, but that number is likely to rise with an MSW. Geographic location also drives wages for social workers. Since social workers can work internationally, those who are expats in areas with a high cost of living can command more.
9. Allows you to pursue a passion
There are all kinds of populations that struggle for resources, including the poor, immigrants, the homeless, the LGBT community, and so on. As a social worker, you can use your voice to advocate for their rights and needs. Let’s say you’re interested in criminal justice, you can help ex-convicts to assimilate back into society. While others see injustices and just get upset about them, you can do something about it.
10. No boring routines
The diversity of social work makes every day different. You’ll be helping people from all walks of life, talking about different challenges/difficulties. Different situations will arise every day, and you’ll find yourself in different settings –from homes to hospitals, police departments, and even prisons. Basically, you’ll rarely do the same thing twice.
10 Cons of Being a Social Worker
1.Long, irregular working hours
Social workers work the typical 9-5 schedule. However, emergencies can arise at any given moment that you have to deal with. Helping others also means creating time outside regular office hours to cultivate a relationship with them. That will encourage them to trust you more and open up about their situations. You must maintain a flexible schedule, which means being able to go to work early, stay late, and work during the weekends/holidays.
2. Compassion fatigue
Being a social worker means caring about other peoples’ well-being; however, the same empathy can take a toll on your emotional health. Seeing and hearing about heart-wrenching situations daily can trigger compassion fatigue. This is a condition where you start to participate in the traumas of those you’re helping. This can lead to physical and emotional issues like lack of sleep, depression, substance abuse, and painful emotions as a way to cope.
3. A high workload
The average social worker should be able to balance 15-20 cases at the same time. Unfortunately, due to administrative mismanagement, budget cuts, and chronic understaffing in this field, social workers are forced to juggle 40-50 cases at once, which is way more than they should carry. Every time you take on an additional case before closing another, you reduce your effectiveness.
4. Security risks
This isn’t something all social workers have to worry about, but it’s prevalent in some areas. For instance, those working in prisons or non-profit organizations that deal with aggressive or violent individuals could find themselves in dangerous situations. Part of being a social worker is visiting the client’s home to ensure compliance and check on progress. Walking into an unknown territory presents the same risks that police officers face in the same situation. It goes without saying that this could be life-threatening.
5. Your role is limited
Social workers often have scarce resources to help their clients. This makes it difficult to help as much as they want to. This is something you’ll learn to accept in the course of your job –that you can’t single-handedly solve all of your client’s problems. Facilitating problem-solving to help clients help themselves is a skill that will come in handy.
6. Some don’t want your help
Social workers are often blamed and vilified. They get a bad rap in the media as they are often shown taking children from their families. This only reinforces the already low public opinions about them. People feel like social workers meddle in private affairs or take control away from them. As a social worker, you’ll be met with a lot of resistance. However, with some consistency and professionalism, you can get through to those who need help.
7. Burnout is real
In this profession, high workload, limited resources, insufficient support, the difficulty of the job, and emotional exhaustion, all combine to cause burnout. This can cause even the best social worker to leave their job for good. Be sure to monitor your own mental and physical health. And, if you need to, step away for a while to recharge.
8. The pay may not be worth the responsibilities
Although social work isn’t the worst-paying job, it’s also far from the best. Considering all social workers do, plus the long hours and commitment that go into social work, the pay may seem less than what you’re worth. If you’re considering being a social worker, do it for the job and not for the money. Otherwise, you’ll experience burnout far too quickly.
9. Long education
As mentioned earlier, you need a bachelor’s degree to become a social worker. But, this is only sufficient for entry-level positions. If you want higher pay, a higher position, and more independence, you must have a master’s degree. Depending on what you want to do, you may also be required to have a few more years of training. All this comes to about 8 years of education and training, which is a huge investment of time and money given the average salaries.
10. Licensure requirements
No licensing is required when you’re working in entry-level positions. However, once you get your MSW, you can apply for licensing to become an LMSW. This opens you up to more job opportunities than an unlicensed social worker, and even the ability to open your practice. The only problem is a license is not transferable between states or countries. For this reason, expats will have to seek full licensure in the country they live in before they can practice. This can be time-consuming as the relevant authorities have to process applications and verify the information.
About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.