Career Profile – Social Worker

If you want to make a positive difference in the community, a career as a social worker could be a perfect choice for you.

To become a social worker you will need to study 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). You will also need to pass background checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

As a qualified social worker your job will be to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds and be able to gain their trust, in order to help them. Often you’ll be put in situations where your tact, patience and understanding will be needed and you’ll need to assess and cope with these situations in a sensitive and non-judgemental way.

The work

As a social worker, you would provide advice and support to vulnerable individuals, families, and those living on the margins of society. You would also be responsible for helping them to get access to the services they need to improve their situation and well-being.

Depending on your work, or caseload, you could support a wide range of social service users (clients), including:

  • children and parents facing difficult circumstances
  • older people
  • people with physical or learning disabilities
  • people with mental health problems
  • young people in care
  • homeless people
  • people moving towards independent living
  • people with drug, alcohol or substance dependency
  • foster carers and adoptive parents.

You would normally specialise in working with children and families, or with adult service users. In either case, your job could include:

  • assessing and reviewing a client’s situation
  • protecting adults and/or children from harm
  • building trusting relationships with service users and their families
  • responding to requests for help
  • agreeing what practical support someone needs (or making decisions for them when necessary, such as in child protection cases)
  • acting as a key worker, co-ordinating other professionals involved in providing support
  • offering information, counselling and advocacy
  • organising and managing support plans
  • taking part in team meetings and case conferences
  • supervising team members and volunteers
  • keeping records and writing reports
  • giving evidence at court hearings, when required.

You would work closely with other agencies and professionals, including health workers, youth workers, teachers, the police and probation services.


In many jobs you would mainly work standard office hours with some nights on call, on a rota basis. If you worked in a residential setting you would be more likely to work shifts as part of a team providing a 24-hour service. Part-time hours and job sharing are often available.

Your time would be split between an office and other locations such as service users’ homes, day and residential centres, hospitals and health centres.


Starting salaries range from £19,500 to £25,000 a year. With more experience and responsibility, this can rise to between £26,000 and £40,000.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.

Entry requirements

To become a social worker in England, you will need to take 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). Many university courses are full-time, although some work-based routes with part-time study may also be available.

You will typically need the following qualifications in order to study for an undergraduate degree in social work:

  • five GCSEs (A-C) including English and maths
  • at least two A levels, or an equivalent qualification such as a BTEC National Diploma or NVQ Level 3 in Health and Social Care.

You should check entry requirements, as colleges and universities may accept alternatives like an Access to Higher Education or substantial relevant work experience (paid or voluntary).

If you already have a degree, you could do a two-year postgraduate Masters degree in social work. You can search for approved degree and postgraduate courses on the HCPC’s website. ??

When you apply for social work training, you should ideally already have some paid or voluntary experience in a social work or care setting.

You will also need to pass background checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). Previous convictions or cautions may not automatically prevent you from this type of work.

Employment-based routes?

Some local authorities may sponsor employees already working for them in a social care 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.


A new fast-track social work training scheme is being piloted in Greater London and Greater Manchester from September 2013. It aims to train 100 graduates (2:1 in any subject) to become social workers, specialising in working with vulnerable children and their families.

The scheme will be an intensive work-based programme spread over two years. Trainees will be placed in a local authority, have their training funded and be paid a salary.

They will be qualified to register as a social worker after 12 months and complete a postgraduate master’s degree during their second year.

The scheme opened to applications in September 2013.

Frontline is a partnership between the Department of Education and international children’s charity, ARK. Visit their websites to find out more.

Step Up to Social Work?

This scheme is now closed to applications. Any further announcements about the scheme will appear on the Step Up to Social Work website.

Financial help?

If an employer is not sponsoring you for a social work degree, you may be eligible for financial help towards studying. Contact the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) for information.

You can find more information about social work as a career on the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), The College of Social Work and Department of Education websites.

For information on how to qualify as a social worker in Northern Ireland, Scotland & Wales you should visit the following websites.

Training and development

During your social work training, you will divide your time between studying and 200 days of supervised work placements. You would be trained to work with a range of service users, so that you can offer varied experience to future employers.

While training, your university will make you aware of the HCPC’s standards of conduct, performance and ethics, which are part of the professional code of practice. It is extremely important that you understand these as any breach during training (or later) could have major consequences for further training and registration.

Once your training is complete, you must register with the HCPC. You will need to renew your registration every two years so that you can continue to practise. To do this, you should keep your knowledge and skills up to date throughout your career.

As a newly-qualified social worker, you will continue your development with support from your employer through the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE), which replaces the NQSW scheme.

This is a 12-month programme and is available to social workers in the statutory, private and voluntary sectors. You would be given a caseload to develop your skills and confidence and receive ongoing support from your line manager or social work supervisor. You would be continually assessed in your work and, on completion, you would gain certification from the College of Social Work.

The programme is based on the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF), which sets the standards of knowledge, skills and values social workers should demonstrate at each stage of their career from trainee level up to experienced member of staff.

For more details about ASYE and the PCF, see:

Skills for Care also has a career development tool called the Career Matrix, which helps you to identify appropriate training and qualifications based on the level or type of job you do.

Skills, interests and qualities

As a social worker you will need:

  • excellent communication and people skills
  • the ability to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds and gain their trust
  • a practical and flexible approach to work
  • tact, patience and empathy
  • an understanding of the needs of different client groups
  • a non – judgemental attitude
  • the ability to work in a team and also use your own initiative
  • the ability to assess situations and take appropriate action
  • resilience – for coping with difficult situations and challenging cases
  • good time management and organisational skills
  • computer literacy and administrative skills.

More information

Skills for Care (England) (Opens new window)
West Gate
6 Grace Street
Tel: 0113 241 1275

College of Social Work (Opens new window)

British Association of Social Workers (Opens new window)

Health and Care Professions Council (Opens new window)

Northern Ireland Social Care Council (Opens new window)

Care Council for Wales (Opens new window)

Scottish Social Services Council (Opens new window)

NHS Business Services Authority (Opens new window)
(NHSBSA) Social Work Bursary
Tel: 0845 610 1122


Most opportunities are with local authorities, although you could also work for:

  • charities
  • voluntary agencies
  • private care homes
  • social work agencies
  • NHS trusts
  • prisons.

Jobs may be advertised in the local and national press, on employers’ websites and by specialist recruitment agencies. When you have about three years’ experience, you could progress to senior positions such as team leader or service manager.

Related industry information

Industry summary

Adult social care is part of the sector represented by Skills for Care, which is one of the partners that comprise Skills for Care and Development Sector Skills Council. This includes those working in early years, children and young people’s services, and those working in social work and social care for children and adults in the UK. The social care sector comprises two sub-sectors:

  • Adult social care – with a workforce of nearly 1.5 million, accounting for 5% of England’s workforce, and 38,000 employers
  • Children and young people – with an estimated workforce of 2.7 million

During 2007/08, approximately 2.3 million adults used publicly funded social work and social care services in the UK. Adult social care includes residential care, domiciliary care and social work with all its specialism’s.

There are an estimated 1.5 million workers providing adult social care services and more than 38,000 employers. Skills for Care are responsible for the training standards and development needs of social work and social care staff working with adults in England. This includes staff working in local authority social services and related services, the regulated sector (care homes, domiciliary care services and home nursing services), non-regulated day care and community care services, and employed by individuals for their own or another person’s care and support.

Key facts:

  • Of the 1.39 million in adult social care in England: 1.31 million are directly employed; and 78,000 are bank, pool and agency staff, students and others
  • The adult social care workforce can also include:
    • 25,460 full-time equivalent social workers
    • 14,000 learning mentors
    • 2,247 educational psychologists
  • Of the 14,456 care-only homes registered with CSCI* at June 2007:
    • 9,870 (68%) are private sector
    • 3,251 voluntary sector
    • most of the remaining are operated by councils
  • Most social care services (58%) are provided by micro organisations (or agencies) employing between 1-10 people or small enterprises (29%) employing between 11-49 people.
  • 12% of social care enterprises employ 50-99 people and 1% employ 200 or more.
  • In 2007, 54,151 individuals were receiving direct payments to fund their own care.

* CSCI was replaced by the Care Quality Commission in 2009.

Jobs in adult social care include: administrative staff, ancillary staff, care workers, community support and outreach workers, counsellors, first-line managers, occupational therapists, registered managers, senior care workers, senior management, social workers, supervisors, technicians.

Further sources