If you’re contemplating a career in social work, you may wonder what job opportunities there are in this field. Are you going to school for a career that is difficult to attain, or are there plentiful positions open for qualified candidates to fill? Fortunately for prospective students in this field, career opportunities for social workers are growing at a rate that’s much faster than average. Certain specialties and job roles are particularly in demand. Acquiring the qualifications needed to work in these particularly fast-growing roles can improve your career prospects even more.

Job Outlook for Social Workers

Job roles in the field of social work are growing more than twice as fast as those in other occupations. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects jobs across all industries to increase by just seven percent, but for both social workers specifically and the occupational grouping of community and social service specialists as a whole, that rate is 16 percent. Social work is already a large occupation, with 682,100 American workers currently in the field. This expected growth rate should add another 109,700 jobs over a decade.

Jobs are also growing rapidly for social and human service assistants, who work under social workers, and social and community service managers, who manage social work agencies and organizations.

Where Are the Jobs in Social Work?

Currently, more than 46 percent of social workers across the United States fit into the categories of child, family and school social workers, according to the BLS. More than 25 percent of social workers are considered healthcare social workers, and 18 percent fall into the category of mental health and substance abuse social workers.

Is Social Work a Growing Industry?

The industry of individual and family services is the industry that employs the largest share of social workers, accounting for 18 percent of the workforce. Governments are also major employers in this field. State government positions make up 14 percent of social work jobs, and local government roles account for another 13 percent. Healthcare facilities are also frequent employers of social workers. Ambulatory healthcare services make up 13 percent of social worker jobs and hospitals account for 12 percent.

One of the most promising specializations in social work is healthcare social worker. The BLS expects jobs in this particular area of social work to grow by 20 percent, or 35,400 new positions. Also referred to as medical social workers and public health social workers, healthcare social work encompasses jobs that emphasize help related to healthcare concerns. Healthcare social workers find employment in settings like hospital wards, nursing homes and physical rehabilitation facilities, where they work with patients and families to provide education about diagnoses as well as support and resources for transitioning home from inpatient facilities. Healthcare social workers happen to be the best paid social workers, with a median wage of $56,200, the BLS reported.

Another area of social work undergoing rapid job growth is the field of mental health and substance abuse social work. An expected 19 percent rate of job growth should add 23,900 new jobs in this field. Social workers in this field can serve several different roles, from running support groups and 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to providing clinical psychotherapy interventions. This field of social work isn’t especially lucrative, with the lowest median salary, $44,840, of all social work jobs, but the work can be highly rewarding in non-financial ways.

California offers the most opportunities in this career field, employing more social workers of all specializations than any other state. New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Illinois are also among the states that employ the most social workers.

Take Advantage of Growing Job Opportunities in Social Work

How do you prepare for a role in social work, especially one in these specializations that have such favorable job prospects? You need a college degree, for starters. You can get an entry-level direct service job in social work with just a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. However, you will have the best career options if you pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

Is Social Work a Growing Industry?

IMAGE SOURCE: Social Work by Army Medicine, Flickr, CC BY 2.0 license

Earning your MSW prepares you to work in a clinical role as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), providing the psychotherapy and counseling services that you aren’t authorized to do with just a BSW. Expanding your scope of services is particularly valuable in the healthcare and mental health and substance abuse fields of social work.

Among healthcare social workers, 92 percent hold a master’s degree and four percent hold a post-graduate certificate. More than half of social workers in mental health and substance abuse have a master’s degree, and 15 percent have a post-master’s certificate.

Additional Resources

What Can I Do With a Social Work Degree?

What Is the Salary Potential for Someone With a Social Work Degree?

How Advanced Does My Degree in Social Work Need to Be to Get a Good Job?

What Is the Difference Between a BSW Degree and an MSW Degree?