Social workers (NOC 4152)

High opportunity occupation

About this job

Social workers provide counselling, therapy and other supportive social services. They help individuals, couples, families, groups, organizations and communities develop the skills and resources they need to function well in society.

Social workers also refer clients to other social services. In addition, they respond to broader social issues such as unemployment, racism and poverty.

Watch the video below to see what a day in the life of a social development manager is like.

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Social development manager


Common job titles
  • caseworker - social work
  • consultant, social work - case management
  • co-ordinator, social work
  • human relations officer - social work
  • intake worker - social services
  • investigator, children's aid

Duties

In general, social workers:

  • Interview clients  
  • Provide counsel and therapy to help clients develop skills to deal with their social and personal problems
  • Plan assistance programs for clients, including referring them to financial help, legal aid, housing and medical treatment
  • Investigate cases of child abuse and neglect and take authorized protective action when necessary
  • Serve on interdisciplinary teams that work with client groups
  • Act as advocates for client groups and develop prevention and intervention programs
  • Provide mediation services and psychosocial assessments
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of counselling and social programs
  • Develop and advise on social policy legislation, conduct social research and assist in community development
  • Work with community-based groups and organizations that do support or social service work

Social workers may also:

  • Provide public education and consultation on counselling services, issues and methods
  • Supervise other social workers
  • Use technology to record interactions with clients
  • Work in international development with non-governmental organizations

Work environment

Most social workers work in the health and social services industry or are employed by government. They may work for hospitals, school boards, social service agencies, child welfare organizations, correctional facilities, community agencies, employee assistance programs or First Nation band councils.

Most spend their time in the office or in a facility, such as a hospital. They may also provide counselling, consulting and other services via the internet. Some social workers travel to meet with clients or to consult with service providers. Those involved with the legal system may spend time in court.

Social workers usually have a standard workweek, although they may meet with clients, attend public meetings, or deal with emergencies in the evenings or on weekends.

Social work can be emotionally demanding and lead to employee burnout. Workers may deal with cases involving extreme poverty, neglect and a lack of resources. Large caseloads add extra pressure. In addition, social workers who work in international settings often lack support.

Insights from industry

New job opportunities in social work will continue to emerge, mostly to replace retiring workers.

There is growing demand for social workers with clinical specialities, particularly in health care. The aging population will create work in gerontology, including jobs with assisted living and residential care complexes catering to seniors. In addition, hospitals will need more in-house social workers as they increase the rates of early discharge.

B.C.’s changing demographics will likely mean a higher proportion of social work jobs in urban areas. At the same time, workers will continue to be in demand in rural and remote areas.

Although part-time work and self-employment are unusual in social work, a rise in corporate employee assistance programs and training seminars will bring an increase in contract work.

Career paths and resources

Career paths

Recent graduates often work in child protection services for the government. They also find jobs with community-based organizations dealing with youth, seniors and people with special needs related to mental health, the criminal justice system, disability, and immigration and adjustment to Canadian society. They may also do international work with non-governmental organizations.

Social workers with experience and further education may progress to supervisory or administrative positions, or they may become case managers or policy analysts. They may specialize in areas such as child welfare, family services, corrections, gerontology, mental health or substance use.

Those with advanced education, such as a master’s degree in social work, are in higher demand in fields such as youth services, psychiatric social work and geriatric social work. Social workers with graduate degrees can also pursue social planning or research. Those with doctorates sometimes take faculty positions in colleges or universities, where they teach or do research.

Additional resources