Becoming a social worker isn’t easy. It’s also one of the most fulfilling and life-enriching careers you could choose. Before you start out on this particular part, though, you need to ask yourself: do I really know what the job entails? And do I have the specific set of character traits to be successful in it?
If you’re generally socially aware, empathetic and care about others in society then a career as a social worker might be for you. It’s a challenging role no matter which area you specialise in, but it’s also a very rewarding one if people really matter to you. Wanting to make a difference is an important part of the characteristics needed to become a social worker as the job revolves around helping and protecting people.
The social services department of any local government is extremely varied. The range of social services users include children or adults with:
- Mental health problems
- No fixed abode
- Drug, alcohol or substance dependency
- Physical or learning difficulties
- Difficult circumstances whatever they may be
What qualifications do I need?
Five A-C GCSE grades then 3 A levels or a BTEC in Health and Social Care which will lead onto a three-year undergraduate degree or a two-year postgraduate degree in social work that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
What do I need to work with children in the UK?
There is an important formality that is necessary when wanting to work with children in the UK this is a disclosure and barring check (DBC). This is to check if you have any criminal records and to prove your identity. There are varying levels of service and you can’t do a full check on yourself; it has to be requested by an employer.
Do I need work experience?
The short answer is yes, definitely. As part of your degree there are 200 hours assessed work experience in a variety of different settings to aid with classroom learning. Each student will gain experience with children and adults with varying needs. Social work is largely about helping people help themselves and social workers help more people with mental health issues than physiologists and psychiatrists, so controlled work experience is paramount to becoming a qualified social worker.
Keep a reflective diary when doing placements, write down experiences (and where and when they took place) so that when you are interviewed in the future you can be very clear about what experience you have and when it was.
The type of work experience needed to get ahead is work ranging from the Samaritans helpline, helping out in a special needs school, retirement communities, working for charities that specialise in helping the elderly or youth and working for the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO).
What more can I do?
Picking up plenty of personal connections whether you’re at university, gaining work experience or simply meeting an existing social worker for a coffee is never going to be a bad idea. Make contacts, connect with people in the industry and try to absorb the wealth of knowledge they have; this could give you a broader knowledge of the work than gaining firsthand experience for yourself.
As with all worthwhile careers, to get where you want to be involves planning, dedication, hard work and a long, slow process of building up to the required knowledge, expertise and experience. However with patience and foresight your aim can become a reality.
Thinking of becoming a social worker? See what our Level 3 Diploma in health and social care could offer you.
Image from caerffili.gov.uk