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Careers Centre

Social work

Sector Overview

This page has been written by Shona Mach, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Shona, or any of our advisers, visit our website.

If you're passionate about helping others, empowering people and helping them to progress through difficult situations in their lives, then a career as a social worker could be right for you.

People entering this profession work with individuals and families to improve day-to-day living and long term outcomes, providing care, protection and support to ensure that the client gets the help from services they may require.

The ability to make difficult decisions, communicate, relate with tact and empathy, and demonstrate understanding, all whilst remaining impartial and non-judgemental, is not straight forward. Though challenging and frequently emotionally distressing, the resulting impact as a direct consequence of the work you would do is almost as massive as the volume of people in need.

Males remain a small minority of social work students. According to General Social Care Council (GSCC) figures, over 75% of qualified social workers in England are female.

Social worker attributes profile

Key attributes needed for the roleWhere you could develop these skills or attributes

Good time management and organisational skills

CAPOD regularly runs courses on these kinds of skills within its Professional Skills Curriculum.

Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put them into practice.

Excellent communication and people skills

The ability to work in a team and also use your own initiative

An understanding of the needs of different client groups

Volunteering as a Nightline Listening Volunteer or taking part in an SVS project in the local community will help to develop your communication skills with the kinds of people you might work with in a future social work role.  This kind of experience would also help you to reflect on whether or not you possess the key attributes listed below.
Computer literacy Taking advantage of the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help you develop your IT skills.  You may also be able to undertake the Microsoft Office Specialist Qualification, offered as part of CAPOD’s Professional Skills Curriculum

Other key attributes demanded for the role: do you possess them?

  • the ability to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds and gain their trust
  • tact, patience and empathy
  • resilience - for coping with difficult situations and challenging cases
  • a non - judgemental attitude
  • the ability to assess situations and take appropriate action
  • a practical and flexible approach to work

Nature of sector or roles

In order to practice as a social worker, you must be registered. To be registered you must have a social work degree (either an undergraduate degree in social work, or a masters in social work). Once you have completed your degree you will be eligible to apply to be registered as a social worker with one of the four UK regulators. The regulators exist in order to protect the public by ensuring that only qualified and competent practitioners are allowed to practice as social workers.

Each of the four UK regions has a different regulator:

Social work can be an emotionally demanding and challenging role, occasionally receiving a lot of negative media attention when things go seriously wrong. As a result of this the government is putting more measures in place to support and develop a strong workforce of social workers. It is, however, a career where you can really ‘make a difference’ and work with people to help them improve their lives.

Social workers tend to specialise in supporting either children/young people and families or vulnerable adults. There are many subdivisions amongst these, with different areas covered within a department. Children under at risk assessment alongside their families or in foster care are more often in the spotlight, however your caseload could also include people with physical or learning disabilities, people facing difficulties related to and caused by mental ill health, people with drug or alcohol dependency issues, or the homeless.


Social Worker –v- Social Care Worker

There’s a clear distinction between a social worker and a social care worker:

Networks - how and why to use them

Networking is particularly important and can really help you find out about roles, gain work experience and succeed with your applications for professional training. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.

How to gain experience/internships

Whether you wish to work with young people or adults, getting experience is crucial in not only understanding the needs of your potential client, but also learning how to go about meeting these needs without compromising yourself emotionally. Social Work is a competitive degree choice, so finding the right and most relevant experience can take some time, perseverance and patience. Relevant experience in a social work/social care setting is also vital before being accepted on to any postgraduate course. Some universities specify a minimum amount of time to be spent gaining experience.

There are many different ways of gaining some experience. For example:

Entry Routes

There are a range of options and routes for graduates with non-social work first degrees, namely:

Postgraduate Study

You will need to undertake a postgraduate course which is registered on and approved by the relevant professional body for your region (see 'Nature of sector or roles'). These are usually over two years and are described as a conversion course, with students going out on placements early on into it. Your placements will also provide you with ample opportunities to network and find potential mentors to support you on the road to qualifying and provide vital insights and contacts for future job prospects.

You will learn about social work, all the legislation, theory work as well as ethics and values. Some experience within social work or social care is required as this will help you in advance to form an understanding of the work you are about to undertake on your placements.

A first degree in a health-related field is by no means essential, but gaining frequent and recent experience in working within your field of interest is important. You will also need to be prepared to not only submit a personal statement, but may be invited to undergo further testing and perhaps an interview ahead of being accepted onto your Social Work conversion degree. They may also have set minimums for the amount of experience you have undertaken.

Fast track programmes into social work

There are also fast-track graduate programmes for entry to social work, eg

Employment-Based Routes

Some local authorities may sponsor employees already working for them in a social work support role to take the social work degree part-time or through distance learning. Some local authorities also recruit people directly into work-based training schemes for new social workers. Check in your local area to see if schemes like these are available.

Other opportunities

Assessed & Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) -this is an option exclusively for graduates of Social Work degrees at all levels. It provides newly qualified social workers with work for their first year, in a similar arrangement to the Probationary Year newly qualified Teachers receive in Scotland. With access to regular support which is maintained throughout the year, this operates in both the private and voluntary sectors, providing newly qualified Social Workers with registered and recognised further training.

National Skills Academy (NSA) Social Care Graduate Training Scheme is a pioneering programme for graduates looking to launch a management career in adult social care. Funded by the Department of Health, the scheme is part of the Skills Academy’s mission to promote and foster high quality leadership for the future social care workforce.

Applications for postgraduate study

Most universities process both undergraduate and postgraduate applications for social work through UCAS. Applications should be sent to UCAS by 15 January to guarantee consideration for a place in September the following year.

UCAS provide advice on helping you to choose between similar courses and universities.


You may be eligible for funding to help support your study. Here are some suggestions:

When you search for courses on UCAS, you can see if any bursaries, scholarships or awards are available from the course provider. Tuition fees vary widely across different course providers – check the course listings and contact them for more details.

If you’re training for social work, you may get a bursary to help with living costs and tuition fees. The amount won’t depend on household income – instead it’s based on where you live and where you’ll be studying.

Find out more from one of the following organisations (depending on where you are normally domiciled).

How to get a (graduate) job

Many social workers are employed by Local Authorities. Others, however, are based in registered charities, voluntary agencies, private care homes, social work agencies, NHS trusts and prisons. They all work with partners in education, Health Workers, the police and probation officers towards improving the situation and well-being of their clients.

Here are some good websites to take a look at roles available:

Key UK links and resources

Careers Centre resources


Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:



Professional Bodies

General Social Work-related careers information


USA resources

The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.

The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The link below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.