Building a Social Work Career

A career in social work may not be the easiest thing to build, but from your first social worker jobs to your career highs in management, research or policy, you’ll know your work directly affects peoples lives, and leaves them better for the effort you put in.

Today we’re looking at how you can build that social work career, from the first steps, to a look ahead at where you could end up.


Social workers are currently hugely in demand – there can never be enough people to fill all the available roles. They help the wheels of society spin more freely, and act as a safety net to help people before they need more dramatic intervention from other services, be they the NHS or the police and criminal justice system. Social workers are the prevention that’s better than the cure.

This means that there are lots of routes open for you to get into social work. The traditional route is the study of a three year honours degree (as approved by the HCPC – the Health and Care Professions Council). This is ideal if you’ve not studied at university before, as funding is available to support three full years of study for you.

If you’ve already got a degree, or are at a stage in your life when you can’t take three years out of your other responsibilities to study, then alternatives are available. Post-graduate courses let you convert your existing qualifications into social work ready certification in only a year or two. If full time study doesn’t suit you, the Open University offers part time courses that you can complete when you have the time to. Lots of social workers qualify in this way!

There are also vocational training courses you can undertake, where academic study is combined with on the job training that gets you out and helping people as soon as possible. This is a great fit if you want to get started right away, but if you’re not someone who thrives in a ‘sink or swim’ environment it might be unduly stressful, and leave you burned out and put off the entire sector.

First Jobs

All training comes with work experience, which will inform the first jobs you get, either by directly returning you to those same services and managers, or through the recommendations and references you get.

Social work has a lot of different facets so it’s important to try and make sure you’re pursuing your favourite as soon as possible. If you got into social work to work with elderly people specifically, then pushing for your early placements and work experience to be with services that deal with older people help you establish the foundations of that career.

The Future

Social work is a flexible career – from your training there are so many different directions to go in you can, in truth, largely define your own future. Some experienced social workers go into management, taking lessons from the front line into running their own teams. Others with a similar attitude get into training so they can pass their insights on. For those who want to, there’s the chance to change the very direction and future of social work as a field: research and policy roles let you inform how whole services will be funded and run, making an incalculable impact on other people’s lives.

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