Social Worker: Summary of Career Training for Social Workers

Social workers can help people function in their everyday lives by helping them through such issues as substance abuse and unemployment. They may focus on a particular specialty or population. Read on to learn about the education and training required to become a licensed social worker.

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Social Worker Job Summary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social workers primarily work for government agencies as well as social assistance and healthcare agencies. They might also work in schools, churches or community organizations. They can specialize in such areas as family and school, medical or public health and mental health or substance abuse (www.bls.gov). Their role may require them to plan or develop policies, help families through social conflict or find day care. Social workers can obtain membership with the National Association of Social Workers or the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

Career Training

A bachelor's degree is the minimum degree required for entry-level employment in social work. Advanced education and experience are necessary for licensure at more advanced levels in the field. Students in a Bachelor of Social Work program need to complete a specific number of hours in a social-work practicum. Common course requirements include the study of human behavior and research methods. With a bachelor's degree, an individual can qualify to be employed as a social worker or enter into a Master of Social Work (MSW) program.

A Master of Social Work program focuses on clinical skills and developing relationships with clients. These programs take two years to complete. Common course requirements include two semesters of generalist practice, field seminars and study of social welfare policies. During the second year, it's not uncommon for graduate students to begin clinical practice with individuals and groups.

Licensure Information

According to the ASWB, jurisdictions may regulate licensure through four levels of social work, including bachelor's, master's, advanced generalist and clinical (www.aswb.org). The last two levels require an MSW and two years of experience, either supervised or direct clinical. The BLS notes that every state or jurisdiction may have its own requirements regarding licensure or certification. Applicants are encouraged to graduate from a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, although it's not required.

Salary and Employment Outlook

The BLS reports that social workers could see employment opportunities increase by 25%, overall, during the 2010-2020 decade. Job prospects for social workers specializing in healthcare or mental health and substance abuse were expected to be a bit more favorable, at 34% and 31% respectively. Child, family and school social workers could see a job growth of 20%.

Social workers' salaries also vary according to their area of specialization. As of May 2012, healthcare social workers earned a median annual wage of $49,830, while child, family and school social workers earned slightly less at $41,530. The median annual salary for mental health and substance abuse social workers was $39,980, according to the BLS.

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