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Success in Social Work: How to start and progress your career

28 Nov 2019
Posted by: Tom Mckenna

The Social Work sector continues to flourish in the UK, with the Adult Social Care sector employing 17,000 social workers in 2018. Meanwhile, the full-time equivalent number of children and family workers  increased by 3% from 2017 to 2018, highlighting the significant growth in this industry. With so many career opportunities for people throughout the UK, it’s important for Social Workers – and those who are interested in entering the field – to have a thorough understanding of the industry and how to progress. Here’s what you need to know:

Qualifications and training

As a graduate profession, Social Work requires you to either hold an honours or postgraduate degree in Social Work. On top of this, your degree needs to be approved and registered by a regulator, which includes the following:

Health and Care Professionals Council – England
Care Council for Wales
Northern Ireland Social Care Council
Scottish Social Services Council

If you hold a diploma in Social Work, you’ll be pleased to know this is still a valid qualification. Meanwhile, if you currently have an HND or foundation degree, you’ll need an undergraduate degree in Social Work in order to qualify as a registered Social Worker. For those with a degree in a different subject, you can take a two-year master’s degree in Social Work. Alternatively, there are fast-tracking routes available to help accelerate your progress into Social Work – check out Step Up to Social Work, Think Ahead and Frontline for more details.

Different career paths

Social Workers can work in a range of different environments and with different people, including children, families and adults. The range of people in your case load may include everyone from children with disabilities, teenagers with mental health problems and young offenders through to adults with mental health problems, refugees and asylum seekers, families at risk of a family breakdown and foster careers. Your work will ultimately help to improve outcomes in the lives of people who have been identified as at risk, and may be carried out alongside a team of health and education professionals.

Adult Social Work is a field that is growing significantly, with a job increase of 21% across the UK since 2009, according to Skills for Care. This demand will only continue to increase as our population ages and we see people living longer and developing conditions that we do not yet fully understand. As this area continues to boom alongside children and family Social Work, we can expect to see an ongoing need for qualified, skilled and experienced Social Workers. As a Social Worker, you will typically be based in an office but spend much of your time visiting clients in their homes, schools and out in the community. Social Workers also work in hospitals and other health facilities, nursing homes, mental health clinics, correctional facilities and private practices.

Want some advice on writing your social work CV? Here are 5 things you should always include.

Upskills and developing

As a Social Worker, your career can go in a number of different directions since the nature of the work is extremely flexible and varied. Some development sees Social Workers move out of frontline Social Work and into management positions, while others in this field may choose to take on more research or study opportunities. Becoming a practice educator is another way for Social Workers to progress and share their skills.

As a newly-qualified Social Worker, you’ll typically be encouraged to take part in the Assess and Supported Year in Employment, which includes regular training and development, supervision and result in a ‘fitness to practice’ certificate. Interestingly, the UK government has invested over £6.5 million in this programme since 2012, supporting thousands of social workers through the training. Once you’ve achieved this certificate, you’ll have a training pathway to ensure your skills remain relevant and you can continue progressing in the industry. You’ll be required to complete continuing professional development (CDP) to keep your skills current, re-registering with the HCPC (or other governing body) every two years.

Some Social Workers opt to take on further qualifications related to their role, such as counselling or mediation. Many join the British Association of Social Workers to continue learning and developing in the field.

Find out more

Whether you’re just getting started or have years of experience in Social Work under your belt, we’d love to hear from you. Our consultants are specialists in social work recruitment, meaning that we recognise the importance of matching high-quality candidates with roles where they can make a difference - whether that's temporary or permanent. Find your next social work job here or contact us if you'd like more information about upcoming opportunities.