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Becoming a Social Worker

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 19 Oct 2017 | comments*Discuss
 
Social Work Social Worker Career

Social workers should be viewed as extremely valuable employees as far as local communities and society in general are concerned. A social worker is responsible for working with people of all ages who are in some way socially excluded, vulnerable or undergoing some level of crisis.

A Social Worker's Role

The role and duties of a social worker are broad and varied, but generally include the provision of guidance and support, in order to enable service users (the people they help) to eventually support themselves as much as possible. Social workers are employed in a variety of environments, with some working in schools, local education authorities and hospitals, and others working within voluntary organisations or in an individual's own home.

Social work can be a stressful career, you need to be well organised as there is a significant level of administrative work - and time management skills are crucial. A social worker is expected to assess, review and maintain records of specific cases, all within certain timeframes whilst achieving set standards of care and providing service users and their families with the help they need.

Personality Types

The ideal social worker will be caring by nature, with an ability to empathise and communicate with those around them, particularly those who may be hard to deal with, such as the vulnerable and disaffected in society. You'll need to be fairly tough to cope with all this and you will also be up against many other organisations in trying to achieve the necessary help for those you are supporting.

Studies undertaken by the British Association of Social Workers illustrate the high caseloads and stress levels experienced by many social workers. Here's what they found:

What Qualifications Do I Need?

To become a social worker, you will need a social work degree. The degree course takes 3 years to complete in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - and 4 years in Scotland. Before being accepted onto a social work degree course, you will need to demonstrate that you understand what social work is about and have had some kind of experience in social work or social care.

Your previous experience could be paid work experience in a related field such as a carer or it could be voluntary experience within a care or social work setting. It will help you to assess your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as providing an understanding of just what sort of work is involved in a career as a social worker.

Demand for social work degree places is extremely high so the better your grades and the quality of your relevant experience, the more chance you will have of gaining a place. To get a place on a social work degree course in England you will need:

  • A minimum of 5 GCSE's at grade A* to C - two of these MUST be English and Maths
  • You will also need a minimum of 2 A levels
At some universities this requirement can be higher. You will need to check the requirements at the university of your choice.

In Scotland, you will need at least 4 Highers and in Northern Ireland a minimum of 3 B-Grade A-levels.

Can I Study While I am Working?

If you do not want to give up your paid job, you can undertake the social work degree on a part time basis. You will still need:
  • To have the relevant entry requirements
  • To complete all the modules within the course
  • To be able to complete the 200 day practice placement

The previous qualifications necessary to become a social worker were the Certificate in Social Service (CSS), the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW) and Diploma in Social Work (DipSW). These are still recognised qualifications for those returning to the workplace, but all new social work students will now need to undertake the academic degree with integrated work placements.

Is There Much Demand for Social Workers?

Whilst periodic public sector cuts will impact spending on social services, there will always be a need for social workers. Many charities, particularly those involved with protecting children, the elderly and the vulnerable, also employ qualified social workers. The BASW study of 2010 demonstrated the shortage of social work staff:

Transferable Skills

If you're already in a career, there are some Transferable Skills that you could you can draw on as a social worker:
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Communication (particularly listening) skills
  • Organisational and time-management skills
  • Mediation skills

Knowledge and understanding of the law and legal procedures will be important as a social worker and while this will be covered in training, any previous experience will be a bonus. Bear in mind that whatever skills you have, you will still need to complete the academic course and placements.

Society Sectors that Social Workers Help

Social workers can be brought in to help find support for many difference sectors of society. Typically they deal with:
  • The elderly particularly those who are becoming vulnerable through dementia or frailty
  • Vulnerable children/children at risk
  • Children with disabilities and adults with learning disabilities
  • Teenagers with mental health problems
  • Young offenders
  • People with alcohol or other addictions
  • Refugees and asylum seekers
  • Socially excluded people

Career Development and Salary

As you progress through your career you will receive ongoing training. All social workers in the UK, register with the Care Council and will need to re-register with them every 3 years, completing any necessary re-registration training in order to do so. Career development in social work tends to veer towards developing a specialism, for instance working with the elderly, in the foster care system, or with drug abusers etc. Through additional training there are also opportunities to enter more managerial and team leader positions, or even as a teacher, lecturer or political consultant.

A social worker's salary will depend on experience and qualifications. Generally however, a social worker can earn from £20,000 up to £40,000. Management roles will earn you up to £60,000, with senior management roles earning beyond £70,000 for a 37 hour week.

Working in social care can be extremely challenging, stressful and heavy workloads are common. However often the emotional rewards and contributions made to individuals, communities and society can outweigh the stresses and strains.

The Next Step?

The idea of returning to study or training to become a social worker (especially if it's a while since you left college), can be daunting at first, but you can do it! Have a look through Returning to University to find out what is involved.

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Just like kaptaink, based on their comments pasted below, I have several months of support worker experience in mental healthcare among other public and private sectors experiences, and would really love a total career switch to social work, subject to being accepted on an MSc/MA SW course. I have a non-social work 2:2undergraduate awarded in 1998 plus a 2008-awarded master's (both humanities based and didn't need a GCSE grade C Maths to be accepted, which I don't have anyway). Kaptaink, could you please be a bit more specific about the Russell group University that accepted you on the MSc SW course? I would also welcome from all - any advice on similar universities that could consider me or on other options available. Thanks. Kaptaink's Comments: 'to everyone posting here who got a 2:2 in their undergraduate degree and have been put off applying for a Master's - don't be. I took a 2:2 for a degree in an unassociated field (an arts degree) and didn't have maths at GCSE either but I got a place at a Russell group University on a MSc SW course. The deciding factor was my work experience which was eighteen months as a support worker with a community mental health team. Alongside this I wrote a good application, had good references and gave a good interview and now I'm a qualified social worker. Don't write yourself off because you have a 2:2 - if you've got what it takes and have a degree in any subject and of any class you should be able to find yourself a place on a suitable course. Getting funding is more likely to be the real challenge these days'.
Ose - 19-Oct-17 @ 7:09 PM
LeShep - Your Question:
Hi,I am finishing my BA Open Degree at the Open University whereas the 3rd year is created from 2 modules from Social and Health Care degree (Working Together for Children and Approaches to Mental Health). I would like to become a qualified Social Worker however, I can't afford to study full time. Furthermore, I've been working in school settings both in Primary and Secondary and would appreciate to continue working with children. Could you please kindly advice me what path I should follow considering I've got 120 credits at level 6 (England) from Health and Social Care degree? Thank you very much for your answer. Yours sincerely, LS

Our Response:
You would be better advised to contact the British Association of Social Workers for individual advice relating to your existing qualifications.
ACareerChange - 27-Sep-17 @ 10:07 AM
Hi, I am finishing my BA Open Degree at the Open University whereas the 3rd year is created from 2 modules from Social and Health Care degree (Working Together for Children and Approaches to Mental Health). I would like to become a qualified Social Worker however, I can't afford to study full time. Furthermore, I've been working in school settings both in Primary and Secondary and would appreciate to continue working with children. Could you please kindly advice me what path I should follow considering I've got 120 credits at level 6 (England) from Health and Social Care degree? Thank you very much for your answer. Yours sincerely, LS
LeShep - 26-Sep-17 @ 7:44 PM
Wong - Your Question:
Hi, any universities still offering the option of a further year of study converting the DipSW into a degree-level qualification? Thanks!

Our Response:
Have you tried the UCAS website?
ACareerChange - 8-Aug-17 @ 2:40 PM
Hi, any universities still offering the option of a further year of study converting the DipSW into a degree-level qualification? Thanks!
Wong - 7-Aug-17 @ 10:17 AM
Beth-Louise - Your Question:
Hello, I wonder if someone could answer my question. I have 20 years experience in Early Years and am an Assistant Manager in a setting. I have just received a 2:1 in a (BA) hons degree in education. But, am interested in becoming a Social Worker. What extra qualification would I require, please?

Our Response:
You would normally need to take an additional social work qualification such as a degree in social work. There are some programmes like Frontline where you can qualify on the job - you will need a minimum of a 2:1 in your undergraduate degree.
ACareerChange - 27-Jul-17 @ 2:18 PM
Hello, I wonder if someone could answer my question. I have 20 years experience in Early Years and am an Assistant Manager in a setting. I have just received a 2:1 in a (BA) hons degree in education. But, am interested in becoming a Social Worker. What extra qualification would I require, please?
Beth-Louise - 24-Jul-17 @ 8:32 PM
Hi! I would like to study to be a social worker. I have the relevant GCSEs, NC in Social care, HNC social care and a HND in additional support needs managing and supporting. I also have 4 years of paid employment as a social care officer and 3 years doing placements during my college courses. I am wondering what the next steps are.
Kari - 7-Jun-17 @ 4:45 PM
Hi, I'm interested in transferring into a carer in social work in the future at some point. My story is that I have the necessary GCSEs and 2As and a B at A-Level. I was able to study Sociology at the University of Nottingham, a Russell group university, but due to genuine personal circumstances, I graduated with a third. I've done a lot of volunteering in a variety of areas, directly as a teaching assistant, at a youth organisation for children with neurological disorders and as the NEET Drop In Centre. I'm currently working in a clerical position at a office and want to become a social worker in the field of offending/rehabilitation and youth offending. I am aware that due to my degree classification that I cannot do a MA in social work etc. I'm planning on doing a B.A Social Work through the open university and know I will have to pay outright. My main question is regards to sponsorship. If I continue to supplement myself with volunteering in the prison sector, youth offending etc. Are there any organisations I can get in contact with who will help organise a placement etc. I've seen it mentioned on the page that it is required.
mallen23 - 13-May-17 @ 11:13 PM
kaptaink - Your Question:
To everyone posting here who got a 2:2 in their undergraduate degree and have been put off applying for a Master's - don't be. I took a 2:2 for a degree in an unassociated field (an arts degree) and didn't have maths at GCSE either but I got a place at a Russell group University on a MSc SW course. The deciding factor was my work experience which was eighteen months as a support worker with a community mental health team. Alongside this I wrote a good application, had good references and gave a good interview and now I'm a qualified social worker. Don't write yourself off because you have a 2:2 - if you've got what it takes and have a degree in any subject and of any class you should be able to find yourself a place on a suitable course. Getting funding is more likely to be the real challenge these days.

Our Response:
Thanks for sharing this information with us, that's really useful to know.
ACareerChange - 2-Mar-17 @ 12:50 PM
To everyone posting here who got a 2:2 in their undergraduate degree and have been put off applying for a Master's - don't be. I took a 2:2 for a degree in an unassociated field (an arts degree) and didn't have maths at GCSE either but I got a place at a Russell group University on a MSc SW course. The deciding factor was my work experience which was eighteen months as a support worker with a community mental health team. Alongside this I wrote a good application, had good references and gave a good interview and now I'm a qualified social worker. Don't write yourself off because you have a 2:2 - if you've got what it takes and have a degree in any subject and of any class you should be able to find yourself a place on a suitable course. Getting funding is more likely to be the real challenge these days.
kaptaink - 28-Feb-17 @ 11:16 PM
I have been working in Customer Service / Contact Centre division with reputable companies for last 17 years and have grown stage by stage with experience and knowledge. I have wealth of experience working forprivate and public sector organisations. My background in Operations Management, Customer Service, Account Management, Vendor Management and Technical Process Management represent a unique combination of disciplines. Personally, I have the drive and determination to consistently achieve success and have the urge to keep learning as life is a continuous process of learning and excelling. My motivation for a career change came about from my past experiences growing up. During my adolescent years I both witnessed and experienced families in crisis. This had a profound effect on me and after a process of soul searching as to the best use of my skills whilst at the same time satisfying a need to give something back, I plan to move my career into Social Care Work by working on a supporting role such as commissioning or workingin the sector for a provider. However deciding is different than acting and that’s the reason for me to be stuck not knowing what’s the first step, as do not know the right way of pursuing this dream / goal.
sean - 20-Feb-17 @ 11:45 AM
Hi, I am an assistant principal in a state secondary school and have subject specialisms in PE/Health & Social Care and I am interested in how difficult it would be to convert to social work? I currently have a huge workload and know that would not change but need to know the impact on earnings?
HBR - 21-Jan-17 @ 9:40 PM
Hi, I want to get into social care work but I obtained a 2:2 on my psychology degree. Most places require a 2:1 or with a 2:2 plus a higher qualification like a masters too. What should I do? I really determine to work as a social worker but I don't know how to get there without apply for a masters. Is there courses I can do to get a qualification in social care? Please help me! Thanks
KTH - 20-Jan-17 @ 1:18 PM
Hi I have a diploma in social work and health and social care level 3 I have, for some time, considered retraining as a social worker, specifically to workin care homeI have worked in different sectors of social care 10years as a foster carer , community care. And. Residential caremy age is 51
Chas - 12-Jan-17 @ 5:39 PM
I have completed my MA in social work unfortunately I didn't get a statutory placement in my final year. My last placement was awful and I never had the opportunity to develop or understand the social work field. I am working as a social care support officer and struggling to understand how to do assessments and carry a case load. What other alternatives are there in order to develop and understand the social work field.
amp - 11-Jan-17 @ 2:09 PM
Hi I am looking for ways to finished my hope of becoming a social worker for the deaf particularly but am flexible!? Iam deaf myself! I have a degree in social work and welfare studies 2.1, from university of central Lancashire ten years ago but life got in the way stopping me carry on with this dream! Am currently working as a child care officer at a residential school. But now am in a position where I can continue with this! Do you have any advice or ways I can do this please. Thanks Rachel
Rach - 28-Dec-16 @ 7:03 AM
Hi, I've worked in the third sector since graduating from a media degree in 2000. I got a 2.2 however and was looking into the step up to scheme but it says that a 2.1 is a minimum. Is there another route in which would allow me to get paid/bursary. Thanks
Huzzers - 13-Dec-16 @ 12:49 AM
Bekih - Your Question:
Hi. I'm currently a support worker working on my nvq level 3 in health and social care. My GCSE's aren't the greatest as I was in a serious accident whilst in school. I want to be able to get onto a degree in social work. Would this be possible for me? TIA.

Our Response:
Please check the social work degree course requirements on the UCAS website . This will give you an ieda of whether you NVQ will be sufficient or whether you need to take further qualifications.
ACareerChange - 22-Nov-16 @ 10:38 AM
Hi. I'm currently a support worker working on my nvq level 3 in health and social care. My GCSE's aren't the greatest as i was in a serious accident whilst in school. I want to be able to get onto a degree in social work. Would this be possible for me? TIA.
Bekih - 21-Nov-16 @ 11:51 AM
I have worked in Community care and for almost fifteen years with the elderly mentally ill.I have nvq2/3 in care .I completed a twelve week and six week course in dementia care.Last year i completed a course Understanding palliative care and the dying at Bromley College.A knee injury meant i was unable to kneel onmy knees (to Perform Basic life support) i wanted to become an Admiral Nurse.I have a so much experiance.A lot that you Would Not find in a book.Many skills i am sure that Would be transferable to hell become a Social worker for older vulnerable adults.Please advise on the best way to Start? Many thanks, Pauline.
P. - 14-Nov-16 @ 11:21 PM
Jude - Your Question:
Hi I have a 20 year old degree in youth and community studies, 3 bTec diplomas in care social care. Nvq level 4 in management in care, nvq level 4 in care and social care, nvq level 3 in caring for young people and children, nvq level 3 in supporting children and young people in education. I worked as a care manager in a residential children's home for 13 years and have worked within a school. I have GCSEs maths English and science but no a levels. I'm a single mom of 2 best way into social work and how to fund it ?

Our Response:
You may be able to gain entry onto a social work degree course on the strength of your existing degree and other qualifications. Ask the admissions department of your chosen university.
ACareerChange - 14-Nov-16 @ 2:38 PM
Hi I have a 20 year old degree in youth and community studies, 3 bTec diplomas in care social care. Nvq level 4 in management in care, nvq level 4 in care and social care, nvq level 3 in caring for young people and children, nvq level 3 in supporting children and young people in education. I worked as a care manager in a residential children's home for 13 years and have worked within a school. I have GCSEs maths English and science but no a levels. I'm a single mom of 2 best way into social work and how to fund it ?
Jude - 12-Nov-16 @ 6:54 PM
Hi, I have degree in business. Meanwhile I have been working as support worker for 8 and half years. I work with homeless and people with learning disabilities. I want to work as social worker. Is it possible for me to be fast track onto social care certificate to go into social work in the future?
Mustafa - 7-Nov-16 @ 10:39 PM
Annie - Your Question:
Hello.I am a secondary school teacher of English with some twenty years experience. I am also a Mum of an adopted boy. I have, for some time, considered retraining as a social worker, specifically to work with children in adoption and looked after care. I have done some voluntary work with a local adoption agency. Would I have to complete a full three year degree to retrain or would the degree I currently have count towards this? Is there currently a demand for social workers in the adoption / looked after sector? Any information would be gratefully received. Many thanks.

Our Response:
There are two options that offer either on the job intensive training and/or training fees and bursaries to graduates with a 2:1 degree or higher. Check out The Frontline and Step Up to Social Work (the latter may accept a PGCE).The Frontline requires a commitment to attend long residential courses so may not be ideal for parents..
ACareerChange - 2-Nov-16 @ 10:23 AM
Hello. I am a secondary school teacher of English with some twenty years experience. I am also a Mum of an adopted boy. I have, for some time, considered retraining as a social worker, specifically to work with children in adoption and looked after care. I have done some voluntary work with a local adoption agency. Would I have to complete a full three year degree to retrain or would the degree I currently have count towards this? Is there currently a demand for social workers in the adoption / looked after sector? Any information would be gratefully received. Many thanks.
Annie - 1-Nov-16 @ 5:11 AM
Hi, What relevant a levels are needed to study social work at University?
Meg - 23-Oct-16 @ 10:09 PM
Hi. I'm thinking of a change in direction. I have worked with adults with learning difficulties for 23 years. This has been for the same organisation & I have worked my way up from care assistant, team leader, senior care & support manager. The latter I have been doing for 14 years. However, I do only have 1 GCSE grade C. Considering my extensive work history would I still need to resit GCSE's or is there another option?Thank you in advance
Jo - 23-Oct-16 @ 8:38 PM
Kate - Your Question:
Hi, I am currently employed as a support worker for young adults with learning disabilities, dealing with the transition after school life and also into independant living, I have been with my company over 4 years full time, I am a single Mum looking to become a social worker and carry on working. I have 10 GCSEs C and above and am 33 years old. Can I do an online degree where do I start and how long will this take me please?! Many thanks - Kate

Our Response:
You will need A levels or an appropriate foundation/higher level qualification to gain access to a degree course. You should check online for any organisations offering the opportunity to study part time/online. Bear in mind that you will need to find the time for any placements and also have evidence of relevant voluntary work prior to applying.
ACareerChange - 18-Oct-16 @ 1:57 PM
Hi, I am currently employed as a support worker for young adults with learning disabilities, dealing with the transition after school life and also into independant living, I have been with my company over 4 years full time, I am a single Mum looking to become a social worker and carry on working. I have 10 GCSEs C and above and am 33 years old. Can I do an online degree where do I start and how long will this take me please?! Many thanks - Kate
Kate - 17-Oct-16 @ 2:39 PM
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