Published On: Mon, Jan 6th, 2020

Social Work Industry in Crisis: Why More People Should Become Social Workers

With the demand for services on the rise but resources getting smaller and smaller, it’s no surprise that the social care system in the U.S. is under strain. And, while this may not be the best news for service users, the shortage of experienced and qualified social workers, along with other social care and healthcare professionals, means that these career paths are some of the most secure that you are going to find. 

In the past few years, the combined impact of the ageing population and severe shortages in social care across the board has led to a critical situation. And, while their work can often be overlooked, the role of social workers in society is now more important than ever before. And the worst part – it seems that the most vulnerable in society are the ones who are the most affected by the situation. We’ve taken a closer look at the numbers, what they mean for service users and workers, and the possible options available when it comes to solutions. 

It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act. 

– Dalai Lama

Agencies are recording unusually high vacancy rates:

According to Kris6 News, the situation with social work is so critical at the moment that some agencies are reporting 20-25% vacancy rates. And, the lack of national attention that the shortage of social workers is getting is quite concerning; it has led to social workers juggling far more cases than they should be, which can then in turn lead to even larger vacancies. Agencies are also having a lot of problems when it comes to finding suitable people for the job. 

Certain states and areas are suffering more than others:

The shortages in social work aren’t distributed evenly, either. Since a large number of social workers tend to be based at healthcare facilities in urban areas, people living in rural areas tend to have even less access to good social care. Currently, the shortages of social care in rural areas are seen to be unsustainable, and solutions need to be proposed in order to improve the situation – whether it’s offering social workers better pay, bigger bonuses or more flexibility. 

It’s good news for anybody thinking of entering the field of social work:

On the other hand, the current shortages don’t mean that everything is doom and gloom for this industry. And, certain states, such as Indiana, for example, are making serious changes and taking solid steps in order to rectify the situation. Several bills have been passed or proposed in order to address the shortage – providing refunds via Medicaid for social workers at federally qualified healthcare centers or health facilities, for example. And, further bills have been proposed to accelerate the licensing process and allow new social workers to begin their career as quickly as possible. And if you’re considering getting your master social work online, it’s good news in terms of salary – the median salary for social workers has also gone up to around $49,970 yearly. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts demand for qualified social workers to increase by 16% by 2026. 

The nature of social work is changing:

Across the world, the demand for health and social care workers is rapidly growing – but the number is generally staying the same or in this case, falling. And as mentioned earlier, many agencies and other care providers are struggling to recruit healthcare and social professionals. By 2025, there is predicted to be mismatches in the supply and demand of social care professionals of one million workers, leading to a shortfall in the predicted demand of 35%. And, the effect of an ageing population means that there’s also going to be a lower number of informal ‘caregivers’ – unpaid care provided by friends and family – which could further increase the demands placed on the social care industry. 

Demand for social care is expected to rise:

Between 2010 and 2030, it’s predicted that the number of people who require informal care will increase to 3 million as the number of individuals living alone and away from a familial support network continues to grow. And, it’s predicted that the demand for less complex care will also rise, including more home care for frail elderly people that will increase the need even further for social care providers. 

Reasons to Consider a Career in Social Work:

If you’re wondering if there is anything that you can do to help the critical social care situation at the moment, pursuing a career in social work is the best way forward. As a social worker, you will not only enjoy the benefits of working in a high-demand career with a generous starting salary, but also have the opportunity to take advantage of many other great reasons to consider this job. For example:

 

  • You won’t be bored:

 

As a social worker, you can be sure that no two days are going to be the same. The variety of families, children, individuals, situations, locations and complex problem-solving strategies you’ll need to apply to your work will keep your brain constantly moving and doing something. And as long as you stay in the job, you’ll be in a process of continuous learning. 

 

  • You’ll learn more about yourself:

 

Both the physical and emotional demands that will be placed on you in your career as a social worker will highlight levels of personal skills and resilience that you may not have even realized you had or were capable of. When life throws other tough situations at you, you will be amazed at your ability to overcome and resolve them, thanks to your experience as a social worker. And, you’ll develop emotional intelligence and perceptive skills you didn’t think were possible. 

 

  • You’ll work with a strong team:

 

Dealing with daily life in the social work industry, particularly in demanding sectors like child protection means that you will develop relationships with your colleagues that can help to see you through the challenging times, bringing you together and developing friendships in a way that no other office could. As a social worker, you may encounter cases that completely alter the way you practice in the future, and may even completely change your entire outlook on life. 

 

  • You’ll be in a privileged position:

 

For many social workers, it’s the ability to be involved in the life of a child or other individual at what is often a crisis point, and being a key player when it comes to developing changes and promoting a good outcome, that is an absolute privilege. Many social workers feel honored to be that person who is able to go in and make things better for somebody who is suffering. Treat that feeling with respect and hold the key values close to you. 

 

  • You’ll be working in a position you can feel proud of:

 

As a social worker, you’ll be working on the frontline and right at the heart of making a difference and achieving a change for the people who need it the most. And that’s something to feel pride and satisfaction about; there are not many who would take this path, so it’s important that social workers are proud of what they do and talk positively of their role. 

 

  • There are plenty of career opportunities:

 

Whether you want to work on the front line as a social worker or move into management, there is certainly no shortage of career opportunities available to you in this industry. And, working in a sector like child protection will provide you with a huge breadth of knowledge that certainly stands you in good stead for branching out into different areas of social work. Social workers are in high demand right now, but the demand specifically for experienced child protection workers is even higher. 

 

  • Improve your critical thinking abilities

 

There are not very many other professions that will require you to hold, juggle and analyze huge amounts of complex information at once, while trying to make sense of it all. It can often be a big personal challenge for many social workers when it comes to cutting through the large amount of complexity, but when you do, it will be worth it. For many social workers, improving their critical thinking abilities is key to awareness of cognitive bias from both themselves and other professionals, which can often be one of the biggest challenges in this line of work. 

 

  • You will make a difference:

 

One of the most important reasons to choose a career as a social worker is that you will undoubtedly be able to make a difference, even if it’s not quite in the same way that you thought you would when you first entered the profession. However you make a change, these changes can often be enormous, such as adoptions that you have been instrumental in securing, or smaller shifts and changes that you never imagined to be possible, even if it’s just families listening to your advice about appearance when in court. You can be instrumental in a range of small changes that can make a difference to outcomes. If you do decide to pursue a career in social work, be sure to allow yourself the mental space to consider the outcomes that you achieve – it will help to preserve your sense of self-efficacy and keep you going. 

 

  • The industry needs you:

 

Finally, bear in mind that a career in social work is anything but short term; anything less than three to five years is unlikely to allow you to be at a point where you feel you have gotten halfway there in terms of your confidence and competence as a social worker. And, more so now than ever before, the industry is in need of experienced workers; children, families, the elderly and the disadvantaged in society need experienced workers to advocate for and support them when they need it the most. So, as a social worker, bear in mind that the longer you stay, the better able you will become at prioritizing, managing your stress levels, focusing on what you need to do and what really matters. 

Job Choices for Social Workers:

The variety of career options available in the social work industry is wide. The BLS divides social worker positions into three primary categories, which are:

  • Mental health and substance abuse/addiction counselors
  • Healthcare social workers
  • Family, child and school social workers

Within each of these categories, it is social workers who have earned a bachelor’s degree who can typically qualify for positions as case workers, or mental health field assistants. In order to work as a clinical social worker, you will need to be licensed and you will be required to have earned a master’s degree in social work from an accredited college or university. You can expect your job duties to be performed in a wide range of environments including state and local government agencies, clinics and hospitals, schools, prisons, military bases, nursing homes, and private practices. 

And, most social workers are able to operate with a relative level of autonomy when it comes to dealing with clients and providing services for both families and individuals. Clinical social workers even have the opportunity to open their own practices, which affords them a greater level of control over their working hours, clients and their work environment. But even those social workers who are employed in educational or governmental positions tend to typically enjoy a great deal of flexibility in terms of setting their own schedules, and many will spend much of their time working with clients outside of the office. This added flexibility and independence at work makes social work an ideal career choice for working parents and others who require a more flexible schedule to manage their personal commitments and obligations. 

Social workers provide support for families and individuals through a wide range of situations and issues including securing housing, employment and education. The services provided by these caring individuals can seriously improve the quality of life for service users and bring about brighter futures for vulnerable members of society.

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