Profiling a Career in Social Work
By Olivia Condlln-Wilby
As high school students move forward in their academic careers, it’s essential to consider the many options that lay ahead. The field of social work offers a wide variety of educational and work opportunities – as well as a bright professional future.
Roles and Responsibilities
Social workers support individuals, families, groups, and communities in the form of counselling, advocacy, policy development, and research. They may work in private practice or within an agency (e.g., hospitals, school boards, mental health clinics, etc.). Social workers address social issues like poverty and racism. They also promote social justice and protect human rights.
Their work may include the following responsibilities:
- Interviewing clients to assess their strengths, goals, and challenges
- Identifying helpful social services and creating action plans based on client goals
- Advocating for community resources, programs, and/or interventions
Social workers may specialize in specific areas of practice, such as child welfare, family counselling, substance use treatment, or criminal justice.
What are the Benefits of Social Work?
Social work encompasses a wide variety of professional opportunities. You may work in healthcare, education, politics, criminal justice, or another field entirely. In addition, your job may involve research, counselling, advocacy, or many other essential tasks. The point is that a social work career gives you the room you need to experiment and find the perfect career fit.
A social work career also allows you to make a real difference in the world. You will improve the lives of vulnerable people and give a voice to marginalized groups. Social workers work with individuals, groups, and communities to make the world a better place.
What are the Drawbacks of Social Work?
Social work can be stressful. You will observe difficult situations – for example, child abuse, homelessness, and food insecurity. Furthermore, you will be responsible for making decisions that seriously impact the lives of others. Some social workers find it challenging to handle that pressure.
The work environment can also be a source of stress. Social workers often have to work long or irregular hours – including nights and weekends. Workdays can be 12 hours or longer. A social work career is best suited to someone who is committed to social justice and doesn’t mind putting in a significant amount of time.
How Much Can I Make as a Social Worker?
In Ontario, social workers earn roughly $37 per hour on average (approximately $20/hour on the low end and $46/hour on the high end).
Across Canada, social workers earn approximately $58,000 per year on average. At the beginning of your career, you could earn roughly $40,000 annually. With more experience, you can expect up to $81,000 per year. Social workers with graduate-level education will likely earn more than those with only an undergraduate degree.
Education and Experience
Social workers must complete a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) to enter the field. A typical BSW takes four years to complete and includes both theoretical and practical training. After you’ve earned this degree, you may choose to pursue a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) or doctoral degree. It is possible to obtain an MSW in a single year if you have already earned a BSW from an accredited institution.
You may also be required to register with a local regulating body, such as the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers. Each province has a unique set of expectations for professional social workers.
Advancement and Other Career Opportunities
A social worker may advance to director-level positions in agencies and non-profit organizations. They may also move on to positions in policy-making, program management, public research, or community organizing. Social workers can also operate private practices, which enable them to work for themselves.
A social work degree may also be useful in other career paths:
- Teacher or guidance counsellor
- Nurse practitioner
- Lawyer or mediator
- Policy consultant or government aide
Social workers may experience high levels of stress and burnout. In addition, insufficient funding for social programs may impact an agency’s ability to hire new employees. Many agencies are looking for social workers with at least some previous experience, which may be an obstacle to entry-level candidates.
As of 2020, social workers are among the top 20 most in-demand employees in Canada. This demand is highest in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan. Across the country, over 25,000 new positions are expected to open up in the next decade.
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Canadian Association of Social Workers. (2005). Guidelines for Ethical Practice. https://www.casw-acts.ca/files/attachements/casw_guidelines_for_ethical_practice.pdf
Canadian Association of Social Workers. (n.d.). How Do I Become a Social Worker? https://www.casw-acts.ca/en/what-social-work/how-do-i-become-social-worker
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