A growing awareness of mental health and well-being has increased the demand for social workers, counselors, and therapists in different sectors of society. If you care about people and want to help them navigate different struggles of life, then a career in social work may be your calling. But what do social work jobs entail and why should you consider becoming a social worker?
What’s the Social Work Industry Outlook?
In recent years, there has been a lot of awareness around mental health and illnesses — with mainstream media and celebrities encouraging viewers to care for themselves, and even employers offering mental health benefits such as comprehensive health plans, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), mental health days, and so on.
This has encouraged people to reach out for help and support when needed. And it has led to organizations making it easy for those who need help to find it and afford it. Some of these efforts include:
- Increased insurance coverage for behavioral health services
- Free school and university counseling
- Rerouting funding from police departments toward social programs
- Virtual therapy (telehealth) and therapy apps such as Talkspace.
With these solutions comes an increased demand for counselor and social work jobs. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- Social work jobs are projected to grow 13 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations.
- By 2026, the number of social workers is projected to increase to more than 790,000.
- Social workers earn a median annual salary of $50,470, while the top 10% of social workers earn more than $82,540 a year.
With a growing focus on mental health and well-being initiatives within schools, colleges, and the workplace, the social work industry is booming. So, what opportunities lie ahead for a social worker after obtaining their license?
What Social Work Specialties are Most in Demand?
A few different social work specialties are currently seeking new workers, and the area you choose depends on your skillset and interest. The following are the social work jobs high in demand:
- Mental Health Counselors
The rise in awareness for mental health and illness in recent years has led to an increase in mental health counseling jobs. Mental health counselors can be found in hospitals and clinics, recovery centers, universities and colleges, offices, and more. As people openly seek counseling and therapy, this profession is expected to grow in the coming decade.
- Child and Family Welfare
Child and family therapists work with children from when they are toddlers through latency. They specialize in play therapy, mental illness, and development issues. These counselors also work closely with the family to provide support and resources, especially within broken or unstable families.
- Marriage and Family Counseling
These counselors work closely with couples, individuals, and families. They focus on interpersonal issues and help couples work through different issues within their relationship. The goal is to strengthen bonds and create a healthy familial environment.
- School Social Workers
School social work is another popular focus in this industry. School social workers work with students, teachers, other school authorities, and their families with mental health and behavioral issues. They offer guidance and support at different levels of education and work towards improving the school experience for struggling students.
- Substance Use and Recovery Treatment Counselor
A substance use and recovery counselor diagnoses and assists patients in recovering from addiction. This profession is expected to grow in demand as more and more people choose treatment programs over jail time.
- Medical and Healthcare Social Workers
You will find medical counselors in different healthcare settings such as hospitals and clinics, long-term care, treatment, and recovery centers. Medical social workers take on the roles of case managers, therapists, and counselors. They assist patients and their families in identifying issues, advocating for them, and finding resources.
- Foster Care Social Workers
Foster care social workers are advocates for children in the foster care system. They ensure children are cared for appropriately and treated well. Like child and welfare workers, these social workers help children in vulnerable and unstable situations and place them with good families.
- Corporate Social Responsibility
There has been a rise in social work jobs in the private sector. This is where a social work career in corporate social responsibility is a possibility. This job focuses on identifying and advocating for social and environmental responsibilities within companies and organizations. With more businesses becoming environmentally conscious and investing in sustainability programs, this job is increasing in demand.
What Skills Do Today’s Students Need to Thrive in Social Work Careers?
To be a successful social worker, you will need to utilize specific skills and education to effectively assist and support your clients.
Social workers must have a master’s degree in social work and/or counseling, accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE). You may also need to complete supervised clinical fieldwork or internships. Finally, you will need a state-issued license to practice within your state. Then, you can land your first job or internship and begin your social work career.
While the most important skill is your education and license, you will also need a set of soft skills to better understand your clients and determine how to best help them.
Soft skills help you indirectly perform your career-related jobs by teaching you how to understand and interact with others. Soft skills valued by employers in the social work field include:
- Emotional intelligence,
- Verbal and written communication,
- Active listening,
- Critical thinking,
- Collaboration and teamwork,
- Boundary setting,
- Ethical decision making,
- Understanding diverse perspectives,
- Tolerance, and
- Organizational skills.
Together, your education, clinical fieldwork, and soft skills can prepare you well and help you do your job effectively.
How Higher Ed Programs Can Prepare Their Students for Career Success
From increasing curiosity about social work jobs to providing students with valuable knowledge and skills, Higher Ed programs play a significant role in preparing students for their social work careers.
And the key to setting students up for success is equipping them with the right resources, tools, and guidance. This means offering mentorships and investing in resources to help students get the most out of their program.
Social work is a highly in-demand field right now and is growing more rapidly than other industries. If a career in social work is the right move for you, now is an excellent time to start. Reach out to your mentors and educators and start creating your career plan!
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