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Health & Social Care

Career insights: Become a Social Worker


In this guide, we’ll be discussing the ins and outs of how to become a social worker, what the day of a social worker might look like, and much more. Social working is a hard, emotionally taxing job, meaning that there is a high turnover rate of 15%[i]. This means social workers are almost always in demand, making it a very worthwhile career to pursue if you are looking for a people-first job.

Choosing to become a social worker is an excellent move if you have a desire to help people and you understand that not everyone finds life easy and not everyone is given the skills or opportunities that they need to thrive. Keep reading to learn how to become a social worker.

What is a social worker?


First, we need to go over what a social worker is. The role of the social worker is to assist people in improving their lives. This might include helping individuals or families seek access to services, teaching the skills needed to build independence, and protecting vulnerable people (such as children and people with special educational needs) from harm.

Other responsibilities of a social worker include providing direct counselling to families and groups, having a full understanding of which community resources are available to different groups, advocating for their charges, and fulfilling legal requirements such as paperwork.

Many organisations employ social workers. You could be based in a hospital, clinic or nursing home. You may be part of a mental health agency, working out of a clinical base. You could work for local and national government agencies, as part of the child welfare agency or the Department of Health. Schools and youth organisations tend to employ social workers where there is a likely need for counselling. You could find yourself working on a military base or in a prison.

Wherever you are based as a social worker, there is a high chance that you will be expected to spend a large proportion of your time visiting individuals and groups. You will be expected to be where your clients are living, working or gathering. The role of the social worker is sometimes to adapt to the needs of those you work with, rather than sticking to a single location.

The role of a social worker


The role of the social worker is complex. You will be expected to complete a variety of tasks, which will vary depending on the type of social worker. You will be expected to

  • Identify which areas people need help with. Do they need referring to a mental health service? Could they use help cleaning or further assistance with childcare? whether it is due to mental illness or due to the impacts of poverty.
  • Set goals. You will need to set goals for the individuals you work with, and help them to reach these goals in a realistic timeframe, offering support along the way. For example, if you are looking after a family with children who need help, you might set goals that correlate with the children's wellbeing
  • Offer solutions. You may be expected to counsel people and help them manage challenges in life. This could involve practical solutions, such as directing individuals to food banks or accessing medical care where necessary.
  • AdvocateMany people who need a social worker involved in their lives will not be able to advocate, or speak up, for themselves (or they aren’t confident in doing so). It will be your job to help them to access services by getting in contact with different government groups and programmes.

The most important part of your role as a social worker is to build up a rapport with the people that you work with so that they can trust you. These relationships are vital to performing well in your job and ensuring your clients get the help and support they need. If they don’t trust you, they may withhold information that could help them in the long run.

Social worker skills


When it comes to becoming a social worker, skills are something you can’t have enough of. A sincere desire to help and to care for others is a beginning, though you will need other qualities too.

To start with, you will need to be an active listener This means you will give your full attention to people and what they are saying. You will understand the points being made, avoid interrupting, and ask questions if appropriate. You will also need to be perceptive of social cues. You will be able to pick up the reactions of others and understand why they are acting in this way. This could mean reading body language, focusing on how someone is dressed, or listening to the tone of voice.

Speaking is another crucial skill of the social worker. You will need to communicate information effectively. Being an effective speaker is not just about being clear; it is about finding the appropriate tone and register for the individual and group you are working with.

Ultimately, you will need to be a critical thinker and a problem solver. You should be able to respond to each situation, evaluating the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and from this discern appropriate action. You will have a desire to keep up to date with all potential solutions, and at times will have the ability to think outside the box.

Social worker salary


The salary of a social worker depends on how far along they are in their career and whether you are working for the NHS or not.

Generally, salaries are as follows[ii]:

Graduate: If you start working whilst studying, you can expect to earn £18,000 - £20,000 to begin with, moving up to £25,000 - £30,000 in the second year of your training programme.

Newly qualified: £24,000 - £30,000 - if you work for the NHS, you will start on a Band 6 salary of £32,306 - £39,027

Experienced senior: £40,000+ - if you work for the NHS, you will move up to a Band 7 salary of £40,057 - £45,839

You can find full details on the NHS’ Agenda for Change Pay Rates here.

Qualifications to become a social worker


Social work is a profession that requires graduate status. This means you will need an honours degree or a postgraduate degree in social work. Your degree will need to be approved by one of the following regulators, depending on where in the UK you will work:

  • Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC)
  • Social Care Wales
  • Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC)
  • Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC).

Degrees - A degree in social work is desirable. However, studying law, politics and government, social care and the social sciences will also increase your chances of entering the profession. A social worker undergraduate course will last for three years of full-time study and work experience. There is a requirement to complete 200 days in practical placement. You will need to gain a 2:2 if you are to succeed in becoming a professional, though most employers expect a 2:1.

Step up to social work programme - There is a Step up to Social Work programme for those seeking to enter social work without committing to a three-year degree. This is a 14-month intensive course for trainee social workers for those who already have a degree. You will work in the local authority, gaining hands-on experience while completing academic learning. There is a £20,000 bursary for those seeking to study to be a social working in this way. 80% of graduates of this course have gained employment as a social worker.

DBS Check - As you will be working with children and people in vulnerable situations, you will be expected to undergo a DBS check. This is a check on your police record, disclosing any offence that may bar you from working in certain situations. This DBS check will need to be renewed annually.

How To Become a Social Worker

    1. Study towards a Bachelor Degree in Social Work. You could also study towards a related degree and then complete a postgraduate qualification in social work.
    2. If you are completing a social work degree you will be offered practical work placements. If your degree is not a specialist social work qualification, you should consider gaining work experience with young people or people who need support in your area of interest.
    3. Consider postgraduate study, as there are many areas of specialism within social work and you could increase your chances of your ideal position with a specific qualification. Some positions, with a high degree of responsibility such as clinical social work or psychiatric social work, may demand proof of postgraduate before you can be considered for this post.
    4. You will need to be registered to work as a social worker. The body you register with depends on where in the UK you hope to work. In England, you will be expected to register with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC).
    5. Seek employment.


Types of social workers


Social workers can be expected to work in different circumstances. The types of social workers include:

  • Family, child or school social worker: this involves working to maximise the academic, social, and health welfare of a child. This could include seeking foster homes or working to find a family for adoption. You are responsible for addressing truancy, poor behaviour, drug use, poor grades, and more. You are likely to be the link that joins all aspects of a child's life: home, school, court, protective services, mental health support, and other institutions.
  • Public health social worker: this involves helping people diagnosed with a chronic, life-altering or threatening condition, or similar. The role entails supporting patients with the impacts of such conditions, helping them to cope.
  • Addiction and mental health social worker: this involves working with support services to help those struggling with everyday life. The mental and emotional problems of those requiring support are likely impacting on their day-to-day functioning. You would be expected to provide counselling, intervene during a crisis, offer education, and more.

Social worker FAQs


Now we’re discussed how to become a social worker, these are some frequently asked questions that we often get about this line of work.

What are the career advancement opportunities?

The role of a social worker is complex and there are many ways to advance your career. The obvious career advancement for a social worker is through leadership in social service agencies or within clinical mental health professional settings.

It is also possible to focus on your work as a counsellor, developing the skills and additional qualifications needed to specialise as a therapist. You may also seek to teach other social workers, working in a college or as a mentor within social work practice.

Are There Any Unions for Social Workers?

The SWU is the union for social workers and is an organisational member of BASW. The aim of the union is to protect and support professionals, which is essential in a career where the individual is placed in vulnerable situations. Being part of a union is highly recommended, for insurance and job protections, as the union offers advocacy.