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Written by George Owen

How To Become a Social Worker

What is Social Work?

The overall objective of social work is to achieve social cohesion and collective well-being across society. Social work identifies risks to vulnerable people in order to build constructive processes to prevent any potential chance of future harm or difficulty to the service user. 

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social Workers build supportive, constructive and honest relationships with service users to ultimately improve the well-being of vulnerable children and adults. Social Workers assess and create coping mechanisms, preventative measures and achievable solutions for individuals and families who are going through tough times in order to achieve positive outcomes for their future. 

Types of Social Work

Social Workers specialise in many different subject-areas to cover all walks of life. Common specialities include social care for Children, Adults, Families, Elderly Individuals, Mental Health, Addictions, Physical Disabilities and Learning Disabilities.

Average Social Worker Salaries    
  • Permanent: £22k – £40k per annum
  • Locum: £25 – £30 per hour
Qualifications and Entry Routes

Undergraduate University Degree: Studying a university undergraduate degree approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the most common way of gaining the qualifications you need to become a social worker. Undergraduate social work degrees take 3 years full-time and are funded by the students (Student Finance England can provide financial support). As a minimum, university applicants typically need a minimum of five GCSE’s A-C (Including Maths, Science and English) as well as 2 A-levels. A-Levels don’t necessarily need to be relevant to social work, however, universities tend to prefer students who have studied Sociology, Psychology, English and/or Health and Social Care. The current top 5 universities in the UK for social work are Edinburgh, Lancaster, Nottingham, East Anglia (UEA) and Glasgow Caledonian.

Postgraduate University Degree: If you already have a degree that isn’t necessarily relevant to social work then you have 2 main options. Firstly, you can apply to study social work as a 2-year master’s degree, ultimately achieving a qualification that bears the same value as an undergraduate degree. Alternatively, if you achieved a 2:1 or above in your previous degree, you can apply for fast-track schemes such as Frontline, Step Up To Social Work or Think Ahead.

Degree Apprenticeship: Degree apprenticeships will provide exactly the same qualifications as university degrees, but will allow students to immerse themselves in an entirely different way of learning. The social care apprenticeship concept created by Skills For Care includes a mixture of university learning and practical training to cover all areas of theory and relevant industry experience. Students will be paid throughout the course in relation to the National Minimum Wage of £3.50, however this may vary depending on the employer.

Regardless of the route you take into social work, you will be required to pass a Disclosure and Barring Service check (DBS) which will validate your suitability to work with vulnerable people.

Working Hours and Patterns

Working patterns consist of 37 hours, 5 days per week. However, the reality is that many of the caseloads are extremely complex, time-sensitive and under-resourced, meaning social workers actually spend around 40-50 hours working per week.

The Social Work Environment

Social workers typically work within the NHS, Local Authorities, Charities, Children’s Homes, Educational Bodies and Private Organisations. They spend most of their time in an office-based environment with continual visits to service users within their caseload. Because of the nature of the environment, they are required to travel on a frequent and daily basis. To provide the best level of care, Social Workers often operate as part of a multidisciplinary team which typically includes healthcare, educational, legal and administrative professionals.

Personal Skills and Characteristics for Social Workers

Being a successful Social Worker demands a vast array of strong personal characteristics. We compiled the following list with the help from experienced social workers currently working in the industry: 

  • Resilience: Social Work is an emotionally challenging profession that demands you to have incredibly thick skin. You will be involved in sensitive and often traumatic situations that require you to stay professional at all times while maintaining a forward-thinking approach to care.
  • Dedication: Once you have started working in the industry, vulnerable people will rely on you for support and to improve their well-being, so it’s vital that you stay focused and motivated to provide the best possible social care in all eventualities.
  • Emotional Intelligence: You must be able to confidently communicate with empathy and patience to truly understand the emotions of the people you are trying to help. You need to also understand how to manage your own emotions to minimise stress levels and maintain performance.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Your ability to interact with service users will define your career. By communicating clearly and concisely, in a kind and transparent way, you will be able to build strong and lasting relationships with service users and fellow teammates.
  • Organisation: Social work involves a lot of sensitive paperwork, including case files, legal documents and medical records. It’s paramount that you are able to organise everything in a secure and thorough way. Time is very much a commodity as a social worker, so make sure that your punctuality is impeccable at all times. 
  • Teamwork: Successful social work involves input from large teams of people across a number of professions, so it’s vital that you are confident in your ability to work as part of a team. Everyone must be pulling in the same direction with the service user’s health and wellbeing at the forefront of everything you do.
  • Critical Thinking: Social Work is complex, so don’t expect to have all of the answers handed to you. It will be your responsibility to analyse and criticise situations to form clear judgements that will ultimately shape the quality of care to the service user.
  • Work/Life Balance: It’s important that you are not consumed by the role to the point in which your own well-being is at risk of deterioration. Make plenty of time to build a supportive environment outside of work that encourages health and happiness.

Whether you are an undergraduate seeking your first position, or postgraduate looking for a masters course, it is vital that you are proactive in your approach to seeking industry relevant experience as many universities and employers expect you to have been involved in a social care setting prior to application. You can gain this experience by working in voluntary positons within community care or by registering with agencies like us to seek project worker positions.

Social Worker Responsibilities

Qualified Social Workers are typically responsible for the following duties:

  • Initial meetings with service users and families to gauge the severity of their situation and identify obvious root causes.
  • Build trust-orientated relationships with service users, providing them with a platform to access information and support throughout their recovery.
  • Write up assessments in accordance to industry best-practice and timescales. All paper-work must be systematically processed for security and future access.
  • Propose coping techniques and achievable steps towards recovery for both service users and families.
  • Meet and communicate with your multidisciplinary team to build an efficient service network for end-users.
  • Provide evidence for court cases and liaise with legal teams.
  • Attend case hearings, reviews, conferences and regular service user home visits.
  • Participate in training and development courses to stay in touch with new and progressing industry standards.
How To Progress as a Social Worker

Employers can enrol Newly Qualified Social Workers (NQSW) on the 12-month Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) to reinforce their core abilities and boost their professional capabilities. The purpose of ASYE is to create a uniform understanding within adult services across the social work industry, ensuring that all NQSWs follow the same processes and theories. ASYE is support and assessment led with regular supervision, training, progress reviews and a final assessment.

For experienced Social Workers, it pays to have a plan with regard to becoming a more rounded social worker. The Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) provides information on what Social Workers can expect in every stage of their career while providing a clear structure in terms of professional development. Social Workers may also wish to enrol in further education by studying Masters degrees and PhD’s.

Social Worker Regulatory Bodies and Professional Associations

To become a registered Social Worker you must be compliant with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). This is the main regulatory body for Social Workers and covers everything from maintaining educational standards, best practices, law, complaints and keeps an up to date list of all registered health and social care professionals in the UK.

The British Association Of Social Workers (BASW) is the UK’s largest professional association for Social Workers and provides members with a host of benefits and opportunities. Becoming a member of the BASW means you have access to a comprehensive Code of Ethics, Networking Events, Protection (£5m indemnity insurance) and expert advice on all things social work. Membership prices start from £7.43 p/m for NQSWs, rising up to £20.80 p/m for Social Workers with 5 years+ experience.

The Honest Opinion of a Social Worker

The following quote was exclusively provided to Seven Social Care by a Social Worker with 17+ years of experience.

“Working as a Social Worker can be rewarding, frustrating and trying. It can be tiresome, funny, happy and sad. Different Social Work paths will take you on different journeys. The one thing it never is…… Boring!

As a Social Worker, you will attend Case Conferences, Reviews, Hearings, Network meetings and be available for home visits to service users.  A number of tasks fill your day and you are never left wondering if it is nearly “home time”, as you’ve nothing to do!

Some cases will give you scope to “play detective”. Gathering information and facts through contact with various agencies and family members, piecing the information together and analysing it. And a bonus is… It keeps the grey matter working.

In the case of the Children and Older People, it is always helpful to keep in mind that you “are their voice” as without you, no-one will put their opinion forward, ensure their physical and emotional needs are being properly met and they are not being harmed

It has been said to me many times over the years, “oh, I couldn’t do your job” and my reply has always been “it is fortunate for others that many people can do it”.

No matter how small your achievement for someone has been in your working day, if it was something achieved to make the person’s life happier or better in some way the you’ve done a good job!” Sheila, Social Worker (June 2018)

Finding a Social Worker Role with Seven Social Care

Seven Social Care is a leading provider of Social Workers across the UK, and with over 8 years of experience we provide the best possible chance for Social Workers to find their dream role. For more information on how to become a Social Worker, get in touch with one of our experts on 0333 200 5424 or directly apply for a role on our Social Worker Jobs page.