If you’re thinking of taking on education and training in social work, there are lots of opportunities open to you. While many people think of the term “social worker” as a job title in itself, there is actually a whole raft of careers available to qualified social workers in a number of different sectors. If you think social work might be the right career for you, read on to find out more about the role, the job market, and the qualities you’ll need to be successful.

What qualities do I need to be a social worker?

You will need to have a commitment to helping people and care deeply about providing the best possible outcome for all involved. You’ll often be working with vulnerable individuals and groups and will need to maintain high standards of personal ethics while making difficult decisions about sensitive situations. You’ll need empathy, patience, and a passion for justice and equity, along with the ability to be non-judgmental and a willingness to fully understand every aspect of a situation in order to identify what the best interests of your vulnerable clients may be.

Social workers also need excellent communication skills and organization, including a commitment to dealing with a fair amount of paperwork, as everything has to be carefully recorded and documented. In addition, you will need to be emotionally strong, calm, resourceful, and resilient. Social work is not easy and can involve working with people who are upset, angry, dealing with illness, addiction, or violence, or facing other very challenging circumstances.

What sort of education do I need to be a social worker? 

Social workers generally hold at least a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and often a Master of Social Work (MSW). It is also possible to study for a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or PhD in social work. The level of education and experience you have will, of course, affect the job roles and salary available to you. It is not uncommon for those with a BSW to start with an entry-level job in social work and continue to study and train alongside their work, either in person or online, to gain further or more specialized credentials.

What jobs are available to social workers?

There are a variety of jobs open to those with social work qualifications. Read on to find out a little more about some of them.

Social worker

The most obvious role for someone with a social work qualification is as a general social worker for a federal, state, or local government agency. Social workers aim to improve the lives of individuals and families by helping them with social and personal issues that they may struggle to cope with on their own. Agencies that employ social workers include those serving children and families, such as child welfare services and foster care agencies, schools, correctional facilities, healthcare agencies, and nursing homes. Social workers may provide individual and group counseling, psychological assessments and advice, and planning services to help clients set and meet their goals.

Those who have the job title of social worker will almost always have at least a bachelor’s degree and often an advanced degree in social work. Many will enter the profession with a bachelor’s and study for a Master’s of Social Work (MSW) alongside their career in order to progress. You can, for example, study for an advanced MSW online with Florida State University while continuing to work in the field. The program is specifically set up as a part-time program to cater to busy working professionals who are building on their current credentials and experience.

Case manager

Case managers tend to meet with clients who have been referred to agencies as individuals or families in need of help. Their job is to assess the client’s needs and connect them with appropriate resources. They may also be involved in helping clients make important life decisions, completing paperwork with them, and advocating on a client’s behalf. Case managers often have a degree in social work, and there is some job overlap between caseworkers and social workers, but many also come from other backgrounds, such as nursing or mental health specialties.

An entry-level position for someone with a BSW might be as a case management aide, who supports a case manager with helps with everything from running intake meetings to completing admin tasks and keeping paperwork up to date. Case management aides will often progress to become case managers as they obtain more experience and/or qualifications.

Community outreach worker

A community outreach worker will generally act as a liaison between an agency or organization and the community it serves. This may involve attending community events, going to schools and other institutions, giving talks, and generally providing information and advice on the services available from their organizations. Community outreach workers tend to be responsible for identifying and reaching out to those who could use their organization’s services, so good people skills, empathy, and excellent communication skills are needed. Not all community outreach workers hold social work qualifications, but many do.

Probation officer

There are various jobs for social workers within the criminal justice system. Probation officers, sometimes known as parole officers, are generally social workers who work with people who have been convicted of a crime. Offenders may be put on probation as an alternative to prison or released on parole. During their time on probation or parole, they must meet certain conditions. The probation or parole officer is responsible for making sure the offender meets the conditions imposed on them.

Child welfare worker

As the name suggests, a child welfare worker is a specialist social worker who generally works with government agencies to protect children from abuse and neglect. They may be responsible for investigating suspected cases of abuse, working with children identified as being at risk, conducting home assessments, connecting vulnerable families to resources and services they may need, helping place children in foster homes or adoptive homes, or facilitating family reunification after fostering.

Counselor or therapist

Some social workers with advanced degrees may offer counseling or therapy as part of their job, or it may be their main role. Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) tend to offer these services, as do those who have a Doctorate (DSW) or PhD. Some social workers may be trained in a specific type of counseling, such as addiction counseling, family therapy, or crisis counseling, in order to fulfill their specific job role within the agency or organization.

School social worker

School social workers serve within schools to support and advocate for students who have issues that impact them personally and socially and, therefore, often educationally as well. School social workers tend to counsel students and support them in managing their behavior, mental health, and academic progress, thereby helping them succeed both as students and as individuals. Workers in this job role will also tend to work closely with parents, teachers, and other school staff, and sometimes with other social workers and support staff from other agencies to find the best solutions for students who have issues to overcome. 

Medical social worker

A medical social worker will generally work in healthcare facilities such as hospitals and other specialist medical care facilities. They work with patients and their families, helping to support them in times of crisis and ensuring that their clients consider their options and make the best decisions regarding their health and well-being. A medical social worker may be involved in supporting parents whose children have a serious illness, helping patients access resources that can help them recover after illness or injury, or advising patients regarding their options when they are discharged from a hospital but are still in need of care and assistance. They may also provide support, advice, and counseling to patients dealing with chronic illness or disability.


Many people with MSW degrees or similar qualifications are involved in academic research. They are usually employed by universities and are involved in identifying and analyzing various social problems with a view to forming strategies and policies that will provide solutions. Research into social issues and problems can have a real impact and potentially lead to changes in various areas, such as child welfare or criminal justice. Researchers often also publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals and books.


As there are now so many on-campus and online programs in social work, there is understandably a demand for people to teach in these programs. Professors of social work teach social work courses in colleges and universities or via online providers. These jobs require teaching skills on top of an in-depth knowledge of social work theory and practice. 

Professors must develop the skills needed to teach effectively, which include public speaking, organization, technology skills, creating a relevant set of lessons to meet the aims of the syllabus, and finding teaching methods that keep students engaged and successful. In addition, many professors teach part-time while also maintaining roles in the field of social work, so they must learn to balance the two jobs effectively.

There is a range of job roles and specialties available to those who qualify as social workers. The roles available to you will increase as you build experience in the field and continue to develop your career through further study and training.