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Social workers provide advice, support and resources to individuals and families to help them solve their problems.

What does a social worker do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Social workers work with specific groups of clients, including children, the elderly and families in crisis, and help them to solve the problems they're facing. Generally, social workers specialise in either adult or child social care. Clients may be vulnerable or in difficult situations, so social workers need to be able to work under pressure and understand other people's viewpoints.

Typical duties include:

  • visiting clients and assessing their needs
  • arranging appropriate care, resources or benefits
  • liaising with relatives, colleagues and other professionals
  • writing reports
  • attending or contributing towards court cases.

Unsociable hours are common, and in certain settings this may include shift work. Promotion is possible through specialisation, research positions or managerial roles. Ongoing professional development is an important feature of the work.

Typical employers of social workers

  • Local authorities
  • Charities and voluntary organisations
  • Private organisations such as nursing homes
  • Specialist social work agencies

Vacancies are advertised on local authorities' and charities' websites and on national job sites. Publications aimed at social workers, such as Community Care, and organisations that support social workers, such as the British Association of Social Work and Social Workers, feature jobs on their websites.

Agencies that specialise in social work and social care will also advertise online.

Qualifications and training required

You need specialist qualifications to become a social worker: either an accredited degree or a first degree in another subject plus an accredited postgraduate course. You'll also need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The HCPC publishes a list of accredited courses on its website.

If you don't have a social work undergraduate degree, you can work towards your postgraduate degree via a work-based programme for graduates. These include:

  • Frontline
  • Step Up to Social Work
  • Think Ahead

The programmes combine work towards postgraduate qualifications with gaining practical experience in social work.

You'll need some relevant work experience to apply for your postgraduate course. This will help you check that social work is the right career for you and provide you with situations to reflect on during your studies.

If you don't want to do a social work degree but still want a career where you can support people and make a difference to their lives, you have other options. For example, you can take on a social work assistant role as a school leaver. There are also opportunities for school leavers to work and gain qualifications in the wider field of social care (as opposed to social work).

If you're a school leaver considering a career in social care, see the public sector section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for social workers

Recruiters look for candidates who are mature and can work in difficult situations under pressure. Other essential skills and qualities include:

  • commitment
  • patience
  • flexibility
  • problem-solving skills
  • analytical skills
  • excellent communication skills
  • willingness to work with people from all walks of life.

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