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How to become a social worker

Do you want to support people through challenging moments in their lives? If so, then a career in social work could be for you. Find out how to become a social worker with FutureLearn.

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Social workers play a vital role in society, helping individuals and families overcome difficult challenges in their lives with the aim of improving their wellbeing. Whether you want to work with children and families, support vulnerable groups, or address mental health needs, social work offers a diverse range of opportunities to make a real difference in the lives of others.

In this article, we’ll explore how to become a social worker – touching on everything from the qualifications you need to the average salary expectations for a social worker. With our help, you can get one step closer to discovering how you can contribute to building a better society.

What does a social worker do?

Social workers work with vulnerable people to find solutions to the issues they’re facing. This involves working with different individuals and families and offering them the support they need. Some groups you’ll work closely with include:

  • People with learning or physical disabilities
  • People with mental health problems
  • The elderly
  • Young offenders
  • People suffering from alcohol or substance misuse
  • Families 
  • Foster carers and adopters
  • Refugees and asylum seekers
  • Children suffering abuse

As a social worker, you can expect to work in a variety of settings, including local authorities, national health services, the private sector, and voluntary programmes.

While your day-to-day responsibilities will depend on your working environment and whether you specialise in a particular area, in general, it’s likely that you’ll do the following:

  • Build a strong professional relationship with clients
  • Visit clients wherever they are (in their own home, hospital, care home, prison, etc)
  • Assess a client’s needs and come up with solutions
  • Organise support for your clients and make the necessary referrals
  • Keep detailed records

What qualifications do you need to become a social worker?

Due to the nature of the role and the responsibility involved, those interested in a career in social work will need the necessary qualifications. As a minimum requirement, you’ll need to be educated to at least degree level.

In the UK, you’ll need either an undergraduate degree (BA or BSc) or a postgraduate degree in social work to find employment. Most people choose the route of getting a social work degree, which will need to be approved by one of the following regulators:

However, you can also complete an undergraduate degree in another discipline before studying for a Master’s degree in social work.

Another option is to get onto a degree apprenticeship, which involves completing an apprenticeship with a healthcare provider. In most cases, you’ll need level 3 qualifications to be accepted. If you’re applying from the UK, you can use the ‘find an apprenticeship’ online tool to see what’s available.

If you already work in social care for a local authority, then some employers may be open to enrolling you onto a degree programme if they think you’re right for the job.

What are the skills required to become a social worker?

To become a successful social worker, there are some key skills that you’ll need. These include:

  • The ability to work well under pressure 
  • Good organisational skills
  • Excellent problem-solving skills
  • Working both independently and as part of a team
  • Being understanding of the diverse needs of different communities
  • Empathy
  • Good relationship-building skills
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Being a good listener
  • Resilience and self-awareness

How long does it take to become a social worker?

The length of time it takes to become a social worker will depend on the route to employment you take. If you choose to study a relevant undergraduate degree in social work, then you can become a qualified social worker at the end of your course – which is typically three to four years.

For those that have a degree in a different discipline, you’ll need to factor in the time it takes for you to complete a postgraduate degree in social work. Depending on the intensity of your course, this will take an additional year or longer.

Finally, if you choose to do a degree apprenticeship, then you can expect it to take three years in total.

How much does a social worker earn?

If you live in the UK and work for the NHS, then a social worker’s salary is based on the Agenda for Change pay system. When you first start life as a social worker, you’re likely to begin at band 6. However, with additional training and experience, your salary could rise to band 7 and above.

Band 6

  • Experience below 2 years – £35,392
  • 2 to 5 years – £37,350
  • 5+ years – £42,618

Band 7

  • Experience below 2 years  – £43,742
  • 2 to 5 years – £45,996
  • 5+ years – £50,056

If you work for a local authority or in the private sector, then your salary will depend on who your employer is. As a guide, the average salary for a social worker in the UK is £46,429.

Some other average salary expectations from around the world include:

What careers are available as a social worker?

There are many ways you can develop as a social worker – whether that’s rising through the ranks in your specialist field or trying your hand in different areas. Particular client groups and specialisms you could focus on include:

  • Families
  • Elderly clients
  • Young people
  • Mental health
  • Substance abuse
  • Domestic violence

Alternatively, you could also get further qualifications to work in a field related to social work, such as counselling, mental health nursing, mediation, or even as a welfare rights officer.

You’ll find that with experience you’ll develop your skills and will be able to progress quickly, eventually working in a senior role.

How to become a social worker: additional learning

With your newfound knowledge on how to become a social worker, we hope you’ve gained valuable insights into the rewarding and impactful world of social work. 

At FutureLearn, we offer a wide range of courses to support you in your studies and boost your professional development. Whether it’s psychology and mental health courses or healthcare and medicine courses, you’ll be able to find something that complements your learning on your path to building a brighter, more inclusive future for all.

Online social work courses at FutureLearn

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