How to Transition to a Social Work Career

Are you considering social work as a second career? Demand for social workers is strong and growing. There were 707,400 social workers in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with 81,200 more expected to be added from 2018 to 2028. That’s an increase of 11%, which is much faster than average for all occupations.

If you’re thinking about making a mid-career change, continue reading to learn about the education and training you need and how a master of social work program can help you become a social worker later in life.

Making the Switch to a Social Work Career

You have one life to live, and work takes up a big part of your time. If your career is causing burnout or disengagement, it might be time to switch.

Some signs it may be time to make a career change are:

  1. You no longer have an interest in your industry.
  2. You’re not using your strengths at work.
  3. You feel like you’re stagnant in your career.
  4. You feel stressed about going to work.
  5. You experience exhaustion at work, outside work or all the time.

If you no longer feel motivated to perform at your best, you might be disengaged from your job. A different career path in social work could reignite your professional interests and add energy to your work.

Why Consider Social Work as a Second Career?

Besides the growing demand for social workers, here are some other reasons to consider working in social services:

  1. You want to help people. Social work is a helping career. You’re doing work that directly affects the lives of your clients. Proper treatment can mean the difference between living in a dangerous situation and living a healthy, thriving life. Seeing the benefits of your work with your clients can be rewarding.
  2. You want work that aligns with your values. Working with the community enables you to be a positive influence for the justice, equality, health, dignity, respect and well-being of others. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 workplace culture report, 86% of millennials would consider being paid less to work for a company with values that mirror their own. In social services, you can put your values into practice every day.
  3. You want a flexible schedule. Counselors are needed in every city, which might allow you to work with specific populations or work on specific issues that you care about most. This also means that you are not necessarily limited to a 9-to-5 position. Some welfare workers have schedules that instead work on nights and weekends, depending on their work environment.

As long as there are people who are experiencing a time of need, there will be a need for counselors to help them cope. You can grow your humanitarian career by working within different populations and settings.

Will You Need a Master’s in Social Work to Change Careers?

There are social services jobs that only require a bachelor’s degree for an entry-level position, such as the role of a mental health assistant, according to the BLS. If you want to be a licensed social worker or clinical caseworker, you must earn a master’s degree in social work, like an online MSW.

Licensure is appealing because it is the strongest form of regulation for the industry. Licensed clinical social workers have access to expanded career opportunities and the ability to earn more during their careers.

To be accepted into a Master of Social Work program, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in social work. A bachelor’s degree is required, but it can be related to other humanitarian topics. Unlike some master’s programs that require a bachelor’s degree in a related field, this is one advantage to exploring a career in social services.

How to Make a Mid-Career Change to Social Work

Changing careers can be daunting, but the process is manageable and can be exciting. Here are the steps to take:

1. Advance your education

The minimum to enter the social work field is typically a bachelor’s degree. If you don’t yet have one, it’s smart to earn a BSW or a bachelor’s degree in a related field.

If you already have a BSW, you may be able to complete an MSW program in one year. Otherwise, most social work master’s programs take two years to complete.

2. Get certified or clinically licensed

Once you have your MSW, you can become a certified social worker (CSW). Most states require licensing, even for nonclinical social workers. Check your state on the Association of Social Work Boards to see the licensing requirements for the type of work you want to do.

All states require licensure for clinical social workers. If you want to work at the clinical level, you must complete at least two years of supervised clinical experience after earning your MSW. Then you can take the LCSW exam to become licensed.

3. Choose your field

Once you’ve earned your degree and obtained licensing, you can pursue work in professional settings such as nonprofits, advocacy organizations, public agencies, schools and hospitals. Reach out to your professors, advisors and peers to help find positions in the state where you’re licensed.

Figure out what you’re interested in, then ask your network for insights and recommendations for where to begin your journey in social services.

5 Transferable Skills that You Use as a Social Worker

Social services are all about people skills and dealing with issues that arise when some individuals lack those skills. Whether you are transitioning from an office job or from teaching, you will find that some skills transfer to your new career. Here are five skills that transfer to social work:

1. Problem-solving skills

Your clients may have a range of medical, emotional, physical, behavioral and mental challenges. They may experience poverty, abuse or other problems. Each case will be different, and your job is to develop plans with your clients to deal with or overcome these issues.

2. Interpersonal skills

Building a relationship with your clients is key to successful treatment. They will be more likely to implement your recommendations for a healthier and happier life.

3. Organizational skills

Extensive paperwork often needs to be completed to document treatment, operate legally and maintain licensure. Staying organized will make you more productive and better equipped to handle any issues.

4. Emotional skills

Due to the variety of cases you may experience, it is important to be able to empathize with a variety of people. Clients are often in stressful situations and need compassion and patience to help them through their trying times.

5. Communication skills

Due to the person-to-person nature of the job, you must effectively communicate with clients to understand their issues, develop treatment plans and explain how they’ll work. Not only is the initial analysis and diagnosis important, but maintaining the relationship through follow-ups is crucial to strengthening community members and their communities.

Maintaining Your New Career in Social Work

To remain a licensed social worker, you’ll need to maintain your license. Typically, you must renew your license every 2 years and complete 30 hours of continued, related education. This ensures that you’re up-to-date on training and developments.

You’ll also want to be active within your network, in case you ever decide to work in a different environment or with different clients. Networking can open you to career opportunities or chances to expand your knowledge.

Start by setting up a LinkedIn profile, since 77% of employers use LinkedIn to recruit, according to SHRM. Join professional networking groups related to social work to expand your circle.

Consider volunteering in a new area to see if it appeals to you and to build your professional network.

Considering a Career in Social Work?

There is no age limit to pursuing your career dreams. People from a variety of professions enter social work as a second career because it enables them to make a difference in the world. If helping people is one of your passions, a career in social work and earning your Master of Social Work might be right for you.