Different Types of Social Work Jobs: A Short Guide

Nov 9, 2020, 10:00 AM

Woman smiling and drinking coffee sitting at computerSocial services careers are in high demand: Labor statistics suggest that the number of social work jobs is going to grow by 13 percent over the next 10 years, which is a higher-than-average job outlook. But even within this field, there are many different types of social workers operating in a wide range of professional settings, from public schools to hospitals to substance abuse programs.

If you're passionate about working with people and giving them the tools and resources they need to live better lives, one of these fields of social work may be the right career path for you. But even as you finish your college studies and start your search for a social work position, you've got many different decisions to make about the type of work you want to do, including your specialty and the level of license required to meet those career goals.

With that in mind, here's a short overview of different social services careers that might be the perfect fit for you.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social work is a type of health profession focused on helping people face and overcome challenging life circumstances. While a doctor can help you address physical health issues and a therapist can work to provide mental health services, social workers provide services and resources to overcome challenges such as homelessness, substance abuse, domestic issues, financial crises and life challenges related to mental health issues, among other services.

In particular, social workers are responsible for helping connect individuals to much-needed services and resources that will support their efforts to overcome these challenges. Social workers might be responsible for connecting individuals with potential substance abuse centers or recovery programs, or they might identify financial relief programs for individuals struggling with medical debt. In this way, social workers often work as a liaison between individuals and families facing some sort of crisis, and the public and private services established to address those specific needs.

Different Types of Social Workers

As you start your career as a social worker, you'll quickly realize there are a number of social services jobs available in a wide range of settings and with different requirements in terms of educational background and licensure. Here's a look at the common types of social worker roles you're likely to find on the job market:

  • Early Childhood Social Services: Both public and private K-12 schools seek out social workers as part of the counseling services they provide to students. These school social worker jobs typically handle a number of different services for students, including counseling, substance abuse. They can also connect students with other prevention-focused programs, introduce crisis intervention and address welfare concerns related to a child's home life. The primary goal of school social workers is to support students' ability to learn and succeed, and to provide resources and/or advocacy in cases where they're in dangerous or volatile situations.
  • Hospitals/Healthcare Services: Social workers in a healthcare setting can be involved in everything from financial counseling to end-of-life counseling and planning. Because individuals and families dealing with insurance issues, billing questions and difficult care decisions are often faced with complex choices they must make during periods of emotional strife, social workers provide support in understanding those options and communicating between doctors, nurses and billing departments.
  • Community Social Services: Social workers in a community service setting will likely be concerned with services and programs that feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and provide resources and educational opportunities that will support individuals in need. The goal is to give them a path to escape those conditions and achieve a better quality of life.
  • Child Welfare Services: This social worker role focuses specifically on the needs of children. As a child welfare services social worker, you can expect to spend much of your time providing resources, care and advocacy to children coming from volatile or abusive conditions as well as children suffering from temporary or chronic disabilities.
  • Geriatric Care: Social workers dealing with the elderly are often tasked with advocating for their care, discussing care and end-of-life planning with families and preventing and addressing instances of elder abuse.
  • General Counseling Services: Social workers sometimes join a mental health private practice and work alongside other providers, such as psychologists, to provide resources, tools, and service connection to the practice's clients.
  • Other Areas: There are still more fields in which social workers fit: at prisons and corrections facilities, in international organizations, in politics or policy planning and in research fields. While their day-to-day work might look different than a typical social worker, their work is extremely valuable for society at large.

If you aren't sure what type of social work setting interests you, it may be helpful to identify the type of population you want to work with. Both infants and homeless adults, for example, all have a need for social work services, but the paths to working with each of these populations are very different. By identifying the population that aligns with your passions, you can determine the appropriate social work career paths to pursue.

Earning Your License for Social Work Jobs

Once you've earned a bachelor's or master's degree in social work, you will also need to obtain a license from the state where you plan to work. These licensing requirements can vary by state, but you will need to fill out an application, pay an application fee and pass a board exam. In some cases, you will also be asked to undergo a period of professional supervision before earning a license to work independently as a social worker.

With a strong job outlook and flexible specialties and career paths, becoming a social worker is a great option for anyone who wants to dedicate themselves to caring and advocating for other people. Once you have your degree in hand, you can get started on a job search that targets the types of work settings and client populations where you're passionate about building your own career.