How to Start a Career as a Social Worker

Posted January 9, 2020 by in Career
woman in pink blazer

Social workers play an important role in communities, and are often the only resource for people who are in desperate need of assistance. As a social worker, you might be asked to work with people dealing with substance abuse, neglect, trauma, or in difficult relationships. You might also be asked to work with groups and provide education and prevention advice. This is also one of the most fulfilling career paths you can choose. 

However, it’s important to understand what will be required from you, the traits needed to succeed, as well as the career trajectory for most social workers. In this article, we’re going to show you exactly how to start a career as a social worker:

social worker career

What Does it Take to be a Good Social Worker?

Before you start looking at the academic requirements to work as a social worker, you first have to know if you have the skills, personality, and disposition to be one. While your intentions might be good, being a social worker is not for everybody, and many find that the emotional load that comes with the job is too much for them. Some of the skills needed to be a social worker include:

  • Good communication skills
  • Active listener
  • Empathy
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Critical thinking
  • Tolerance
  • Setting boundaries

First of all, if you don’t have good communication skills and don’t know how to be an active listener, you’ll never be able to make it. Much of your work will revolve around actively listening to the people you’re working with. You have to be able to be in an engaged conversation with them, remember important details, and ask questions to get to the bottom of certain issues.

You also need to have high emotional intelligence. This includes being sensitive to your clients’ needs, and having a good dose of empathy and sensibility. However, sensibility and empathy can be a double-edged sword in this business. If you’re too empathic or sensible, you might end up getting emotionally drained by the cases you see every day, and end up taking your cases back home with you. This is why the ability to set boundaries is crucial for this job.

Being a good critical thinker and problem solver will allow you to come up with practical solutions for your clients’ problems. You will often also have to be able to think on your feet and be creative. Social workers also have to be highly organized as they’ll have to juggle many cases at once that can vary greatly from one another.

Tolerance is also a very important trait for social workers. In your role, you might be asked to work with people from various socio-economic backgrounds, religions, races, and ethnicities, so you’ll need to not only be tolerant, but be able to connect with them and empathize with their situation. 

Now let’s look at some of the benefits of being a social worker.

Why Become a Social Worker?

When asked why people love working as social workers, Canadian Association of Social Workers president Fred Phelps said: “it’s a way for them to give back to their communities”. He also stated that workers continually learn from their interactions with clients. “The client worker relationship is more reciprocal” he added. 

Demand for social workers is also very high across the country. According to, this demand is in large part fueled by the aging population. Phelps stated that while competition might be tougher in urban centers, there are a lot of opportunities in smaller rural communities. 

Some of the other benefits of being a social worker include:

  • Lots of chances for advancement
  • Sense of fulfillment
  • Variety
  • Career satisfaction
  • Diversity of roles and positions

How Can You Become a Social Worker?

In Canada, you will usually need at least a bachelor’s degree to work as a social worker. However, if you want to work in administrative roles, you will often be required to have a master’s degree. The good news is that you can get a social work degree online nowadays and pursue your education while you start working in an entry level position. Entry level positions start at around $30,000, and can get as high as $90,000 per year for supervisory roles.

After getting your degree, you will also need to join a regulatory body in your proving. In Ontario for instance, you have to be part of the OCSWSSW (Ontario Colleges of Social Workers and Social Service Workers). Only then will you be able to refer to yourself as a registered social worker and work lawfully in the province. So, make sure that you know what the regulatory body is in your province or territory, and know the requirements.

What Kind of Positions can You Fill with a Degree in Social Work?

Although the job of a social worker will usually revolve around helping people, there are tons of different settings you can work in and positions you can fill. Some of the main speciality practice sections include:

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Children, adults, seniors or adolescents
  • Mental health
  • Private practice
  • Social and Economic Justice
  • School social work
  • Supervision and administration

Each speciality will have its own set of duties, and might appeal to a different type of worker. For instance, social workers working in private practice might be asked to provide individual therapy. Others may be asked to work on providing assistance and education to communities, families, and schools.

In other cases, you might be asked to work with entire groups, like in a rehab center for instance. And some workers may work with families to tackle issues like poverty, domestic violence, divorce and separation, and more. This may include working with children, parents individually, or the family as a whole.

Working as a social worker could be a life changer both for you and the people you’ll be working with. It’s also a career with very high prospects for the future. If you were interested in becoming one, we strongly suggest that you speak with a counselor and see if this is truly the career path for you.