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Career Opportunities

Having a bachelor’s degree in social work is the minimum requirement for entry into the profession.  A master’s degree in social work or related field may be the standard for many positions.  Licensing as an independent practitioner requires a master’s degree in social work and in most states two years of clinical supervision.  Advancement to many positions such as supervisor, program manager, assistant director, etc. also require the master’s degree.

According to Occupational Outlook Handbook of the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,  (http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos060.htm) employment of social workers is expected to increase faster than the average for all professions through 2010.  The elderly population is increasing rapidly, creating greater demand for health and social services, resulting in particularly rapid job growth among gerontology social workers.  Social workers also will be needed to help the large baby-boom generation deal with depression and mental health concerns stemming from mid-life, career, or other personal and professional difficulties.  In addition, continuing concern about crime, juvenile delinquency, and services for the mentally ill, the mentally retarded, the physically disabled, AIDS patients, and individuals and families in crisis will spur demand for social workers.  Many job openings also will stem from the need to replace social workers who leave the occupation.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook, reports that social worker employment in home healthcare services is growing, in part because hospitals are releasing patients earlier than in the past.  However, the expanding senior population is an even larger factor.  Social workers with backgrounds in gerontology are finding work in the growing numbers of assisted-living and senior-living communities.

The Handbook also notes that employment of substance abuse social workers will also continue to grow over the projection period.  Substance abusers are increasingly being placed in treatment programs instead of being sentenced to prison.  As this trend grows, demand will increase for treatment programs and social workers to assist abusers on the road to recovery.

According to the Handbook, employment of school social workers is expected to grow due to expanded efforts to respond to rising student enrollments.  Continued emphasis on integrating disabled children into the general school population will lead to more jobs.  Opportunities for social workers in private practice will expand, but this growth will be inhibited to a certain degree by funding cutbacks and by restrictions that managed care organizations place of services.  The growing popularity of employee assistance programs also is expected to spur some demand for private practitioners, some of whom provide social work services to corporations on a contractual basis.

As to earnings, the Occupational Outlook Handbook provides an array of information. 

  • Median annual earnings of child, family, and school social workers were $31,470 in 2000.  The middle 50 percent earned between $24,910 and $40,170.  The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,120, and the top 10 percent earned more than $50,280. 
  • Median annual earnings of medical and public health social workers were $34,790 in 2000.  The middle 50 percent earned between $27,800 and $43,450.  The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,490, and the top 10 percent earned more than $53,160.
  • Median annual earnings of mental health and substance abuse workers were $30,170 in 2000.  The middle 50 percent earned between $23,840 and $39,190.  The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,300, and the top 10 percent earned more than $48,750.

Be sure to visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook website for more information about the nature of social work at:    http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos060.htm

Two other sites provide significant assistance in locating social work positions.  NASW JobLink: The Social Work Career Center  provides job listings, new job alerts and posting of resumes.  You can access JobLink from NASW’s website at:  http://www.socialworkers.org/joblinks/default.asp    

The New Social Worker: The Magazine for Social Work Students and Recent Graduates focuses on career development and practical professional information for social workers and social work students.  The New Social Worker Online is the Web companion to the print magazine. It includes social work job listings and a social work career page among other helpful sections at  http://www.socialworker.com