The Best Social Work Jobs to Get Right Now

School Social Worker | Child and Family Social Worker | Healthcare Social Worker |
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker | Nontraditional Social Work Jobs

Most of us have at least a rough idea of what social workers do: help vulnerable people and communities find the resources and support necessary to improve their quality of life. Social workers provide assistance in the form of counseling, advocacy, and guidance. But what many fail to realize is how broad the field of social work actually is — and how fast it’s expanding.

Research shows that most believe social workers are government employees assigned to help victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness. And although many work in this capacity, there are several other ways social workers contribute to society.

Today’s social workers are everywhere, serving on the front lines of social justice, guiding patients through the complex healthcare system, and advocating for new legislation and public service programs. They’re even helping Fortune 500 companies establish corporate wellness and employee assistance programs.

Today’s social workers are everywhere, serving on the front lines of social justice, guiding patients through the complex healthcare system, and advocating for new legislation.

Social work constitutes one of the fastest-growing fields in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that more than 90,000 jobs will be added to the field between 2019 and 2029. That’s a 13% increase — and significantly higher than the 4% average growth rate for all occupations.

Many things are fueling this growth in social work, including innovative technologies, social reform initiatives, and the development of enhanced prevention and intervention programs. As a result, we’re seeing new job titles and traditional positions evolve into new types of roles.

With more recognizing the positive impact social workers can have, the future of social work has never looked brighter. Portrait of a social worker or teacher. She is holding books.

How Technology Is Reshaping Social Work

Top 4 Traditional Social Work Careers to Pursue

The BLS identifies four main areas of social work practice, which are all poised for substantial growth in the coming decade.

If you’re interested in a traditional social work career and becoming a licensed clinical social worker (meaning you must hold a master of social work, have at least two years of supervised clinical experience, and possess state licensure), consider the following jobs.

  School Social Worker

School social workers collaborate with teachers, parents, and administrators to support children with behavioral, economic, and mental health issues, such as social withdrawal, bullying, aggressive behavior, homelessness, and suicidality. These professionals identify at-risk students, serve as child advocates, provide counseling, locate alternative school programs, and assess student needs.

This social work specialty can expect high growth over the next 10 years due to rises in student enrollment, the impact of social media, and upticks in school violence.

Job Outlook
Median Salary (2019): $47,390
Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 12%

  Child and Family Social Worker

Child and family social workers represent the largest group of social workers. These professionals connect families with necessary services and look out for the well-being of at-risk children.

Specifically, child and family social workers assist those who are experiencing abuse, domestic violence, extreme economic hardship, homelessness, and/or serious mental or physical illness. Duties include helping families find housing and childcare, assisting with investigations of neglect and abuse, arranging for foster care, and showing families how to apply for government benefits.

Job Outlook
Median Salary (2019): $47,390
Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 12%

  Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare, or medical, social workers help individuals navigate the country’s often complicated healthcare system. They help patients understand and cope with their diagnosis, assist them with the transition from extended hospital stays to normal life, find home healthcare and support groups, and aid patients experiencing issues related to chronic health conditions and disabilities.

Most healthcare social workers are employed by hospitals, specialty medical clinics, nursing homes, hospice facilities, home care services, and rehabilitation facilities. The aging population is expected to be the biggest contributor to this field’s growth.

Job Outlook
Median Salary (2019): $56,750
Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 14%

  Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker

Mental health and substance abuse social workers help clients and patients cope with mental illnesses and addictions. Common conditions that may require the assistance of a mental health social worker include substance abuse, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and personality disorders. Licensed clinical social workers may coordinate patient care and diagnose mental health problems.

Typical duties include connecting individuals with appropriate behavioral and mental health services, enrolling clients in substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, providing therapy, identifying relevant resources, and educating clients on issues that may be contributing factors in their diagnosis.

Job Outlook
Median Salary (2019): $46,650
Projected Job Growth (2019-29): 17%

 8 Nontraditional Social Work Jobs That Are on the Rise

Many less traditional social work-related careers fall under the macro level of social work. Macro social work describes a broad field of practice that involves large-scale social issues affecting big populations. While some of the following positions might not officially be considered social work jobs, they’re a great fit for anyone with an in-person or online social work degree and/or social work experience.

In general, a bachelor of social work is required to become a social worker, though a bachelor’s in psychology or sociology degree may also be acceptable for some positions. A master of social work is often required for advanced positions, including those in healthcare and school settings.

 Public Policy Advocate / Planner

Public policy advocates and planners help influence decision-makers on a variety of issues and causes, including homelessness, at-risk youth programs, educational programs, spousal abuse, prison reform, public safety, welfare, and disability programs.

Work may involve lobbying, litigation, public education, and coalition-building, typically on behalf of a nonprofit entity, association, or political organization. The goal of a public policy advocate is to help pass laws that will improve social conditions and outcomes.

 Social Services Director

Social services directors work within communities to develop programs and services for at-need populations. Tasks may entail program management, administration, policy development, public awareness, fundraising, and education.

These professionals may create programs to aid with housing, rehabilitation, mental health, schooling, and food, in addition to programs geared toward refugees, veterans, and senior citizens. Work is generally conducted on behalf of nonprofits, government agencies, and private social services organizations.

Social and community service management jobs are projected to grow 17% through 2029, according to the BLS.

 Campaign Director

Campaign directors oversee the development and implementation of fundraising and public awareness initiatives, bringing in revenue for charitable and nonprofit organizations. Their work may involve creating marketing campaigns and promotional materials, managing budgets and events, spearheading public relations efforts, and conducting market research.

Most campaign directors work on behalf of local, regional, national, and international charitable groups, raising funds for clean drinking water, homelessness, runaways, refugees, chronic diseases, and disabilities.

 Research Analyst

Research analysts who specialize in social work research, study, and interpret data as it relates to various social groups and populations. Often employed by universities, the government, social and political organizations, nonprofits, and the private sector, these analysts work toward social reform.

The data that research analysts collect and interpret is used to help educators, social workers, program managers, business leaders, and government officials implement programs and policies that specifically serve populations in need.

 Community Outreach Specialist / Educator

A community outreach specialist, or educator, normally works on behalf of a nonprofit or government organization to engage the community in that organization’s efforts to advance its cause. The specialist serves as the primary point of contact between the community and the organization for which they work.

Key responsibilities include recruiting and managing volunteers, developing fundraising and educational programs, coordinating with agencies, and overseeing community partnership programs.

 Employee Assistance Program Director

More and more big businesses are recognizing the benefits of introducing programs designed to increase employee productivity, raise morale, and improve work-life balance. Many companies are looking for individuals with social work experience to manage these employee initiatives and wellness programs, which is where employee assistance program directors come in.

Social workers are often wanted by businesses to lead corporate social responsibility efforts, such as diversity and inclusion programs, volunteer efforts, community outreach, and charitable contribution programs.

 Human Services Manager / Administrator

Human services management and administration is essentially social work on a bigger scale, and usually in a management capacity. Human services managers and administrators plan and implement programs designed to serve individuals requiring assistance, normally in the form of food and housing.

These professionals work for government agencies, nonprofits, social services agencies, and any organization with a social platform. Work may include supervising groups of social workers, developing programs, researching and planning, fundraising, and grant writing.

 Telehealth Therapist / Counselor

Telehealth counselors and therapists provide virtual psychosocial assessments; individual, group, and family therapy; and treatment planning. They also facilitate referrals for alternative treatment options and community resources.

Telehealth is one of the fastest-growing fields in healthcare. Research firm Frost & Sullivan projects a sevenfold growth in telehealth by 2025. If you’re looking for a career in social work that offers a lot of flexibility and a promising future, telehealth is a terrific option to pursue.

By Stephen Gaffney
Stephen Gaffney