Empathy, flexibility and good negotiation and listening skills are prerequisites for a career in social work, but you will also need to show focus, determination and a genuine commitment to helping others if you want to get your get your foot on the ladder. There are no age barriers to a career in social work and academic authorities recognise that life skills and work experience make a valuable contribution in a profession that respects diversity. Education and training are key, regardless of whether you are a school leaver or a mature adult contemplating a career change.
Pursue academic excellence. University places being competitive, it’s in your best interest to work hard at school. Universities in England and Wales and Northern Ireland typically ask for five GCSEs at grades A to C and least two A Levels or an equivalent qualification such as a BTEC National Diploma or an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) Level 3 in Health and Social Care. Scottish universities normally require four Highers or equivalent qualifications; if studying in Northern Ireland you must have three B-Grade A-Levels or higher.
Gain appropriate work experience. This demonstrates your commitment and prepares you for the work placements that are a mandatory part of your degree. Paid or voluntary work in a care environment, such as a day care centre for elderly people or people with disabilities will help you decide if social work is the right career choice.
Complete a degree course. A bachelors degree in social work is the standard access route for a career in social work. Contact the universities that interest you or check out their websites to determine what their entrance criteria is for academic qualifications and whether they require prospective students to have notched up relevant paid or voluntary work experience.
Apply to a postgraduate training programme. Some local authorities and charities offer these initiatives, enabling you to gain valuable experience and get established in your career. In return, you will have to commit to continuing working for the organization that trained you for at least two years.
Get a Master's degree. A Master's in social work qualifies you to work as a social worker, which is an option if your undergraduate degree is in a different subject. If you are already employed and want to continue working and earning while you a studying, it may be possible to pursue a masters part-time although you will have to juggle the mandatory work placements that are a part of your degree.
Maximise transferable skills. Accentuating the skills you acquired through previous work experience is important if you are applying to do a Master's or Undergraduate degree as a mature student, or want to enrol on a post-graduate training programme. Someone with a background in human resources, for example, could stress that they helped others achieve their potential while exercising tact and diplomacy. Some universities will consider exemptions for undergraduate places if you have relevant work experience and can demonstrate that you are academically capable.
Ask your employer to sponsor your study. This may be a feasible option, particularly if you work for a local authority or charity that also sponsors social work training initiatives or would benefit from your new skills.
Check out if you are eligible for an NHS bursary to help with your studies. These non-refundable grants are available to undergraduate and post-graduate students and are offered as an incentive to train in social work.