Social workers (NOC 4152)

High opportunity occupation

About this job

Social workers help individuals, couples, families, groups, communities and organizations develop the skills and resources they need to enhance social functioning. They  provide counselling, therapy and referral to other supportive social services. Also, social workers respond to other social needs and issues, such as unemployment, racism and poverty.

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Social development manager

Social workers work with community-based groups and organizations doing support or social service work. They may be involved in community development and may also work in international development with non-governmental organizations.

Social workers may work in private practice with or be employed in:

  • hospitals
  • school boards
  • social service agencies
  • child welfare organizations
  • correctional facilities
  • community agencies
  • employee assistance programs
  • First Nation band councils

Social workers must be empathetic, understanding and able to work in difficult situations. They must also have computer skills because a portion of their work is completed online.

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


Social workers perform some or all of the following duties:

  • Interview clients individually, in families, or in groups, to assess their situation and problems and determine the types of services required
  • Provide counsel and therapy to assist clients in developing skills to deal with and resolve their social and personal problems
  • Plan programs of assistance for clients including referral to agencies that provide financial assistance, legal aid, housing, medical treatment and other services
  • Investigate cases of child abuse or neglect and take authorized protective action when necessary
  • Serve as members on interdisciplinary teams of professionals working with client groups
  • Act as advocates for client groups in the community, lobby for solutions to problems directly affecting client groups and develop prevention and intervention programs to meet community needs
  • Develop or advise on social policy legislation, conduct social research and assist in community development
  • Provide mediation services and psychosocial assessments
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of counselling and social programs
  • May provide public education and consultation to professionals or groups regarding counselling services, issues and methods
  • May supervise other social workers.

Work environment

Most social workers work in the Health and Social Services industry or in the Public Administration industry (government). Although most social workers have a standard workweek some evenings and weekends may be necessary to meet with clients or attend public meetings affecting the community. Emergencies may also occur outside of regular office hours and sometimes demand immediate action.

Much time is spent in either an office setting or in a facility, but there may be some travel to meet with clients or consult with service providers. In addition, social workers often have extensive involvement in the legal system and may have to work in a legal court.

This occupation can be emotionally demanding and “employee burnout” is quite common. Large caseloads also add extra pressure.

Social workers who work in an international setting often have minimal or no institutional support.

Social workers may need to deal with physical conditions reflecting extreme poverty, neglect, and a lack of financial and other resources.

Insights from industry

Social work is changing and new job opportunities will continue to emerge. Most job openings, however, will come from the need to replace retiring workers.

Industry sources report that B.C.'s changing population characteristics will result in an increasing proportion of social work jobs in urban areas. However, there is expected to be a continued need for workers in rural areas. The aging population will create work in gerontology, including jobs with the many “assisted living” complexes catering to seniors.

Also, with hospitals emphasizing an “early discharge” of patients, there will be a need for in-house social workers to coordinate plans for individual patients by making sure that necessary medical services and social supports are in place. Generally, there is a growing demand for those with clinical specialities.

Students who have work experience, and build on that work experience with further education, are in higher demand in their fields (e.g., youth services, psychiatric social work and geriatric social work).

Although part-time work and self-employment is unusual in this occupation, a rise in corporate employee assistance programs and training seminars will contribute to the increase in contract work in this field.

Career paths and resources

Career paths

Recent graduates often get positions with the government working in child protection. They also find positions with community-based organizations dealing with youth, seniors and others with special needs related to mental health, the criminal justice system, disability, and immigration and adjustment to Canadian society. They may also obtain positions doing 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. It is also possible for social workers to specialize in areas such as child welfare, family services, corrections, gerontology, mental health or addictions.

Social workers with graduate degrees have the option to pursue social planning or research activities, and those with doctorates sometimes take faculty positions in colleges and universities where they teach or conduct research.

Additional resources