How to become a Social Worker

How to become a Social Worker
How to become a Social Worker

posted 13 Dec 23

A career as a support worker or social worker can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding. It is a job that has caring for people at its heart. You will need to be kind, supportive and understanding, and learn how to build relationships with your clients that will help to protect them from harm and navigate life as independently as possible. 

Social work is an industry that is growing in the UK, and there are plenty of skills gaps that need plugging. Get the right qualifications and you could have a job for life. In this article, we will outline how to become a support worker, the qualifications that you may need, and the various routes into this job. 

Entry routes to becoming a social worker 

There are several ways that you can become a support worker, and the entry requirements are variable. While it's typical for social workers to have a degree in social work or a related field, there are pathways to become a support worker without qualifications. One option is to start in an entry-level position, such as a social services assistant or community support worker; taking on one of these can be a great way to earn experience.  

Volunteering or interning at social service agencies can also help gain practical experience. Furthermore, obtaining certifications in areas like counselling, child and family services, or substance abuse can showcase your commitment to the field and enhance your skills. Even Universities offering social work degrees place a high level of importance on relevant experience and genuine passion for the role when it comes to offering places, so volunteering will stand you in good stead. 

A social work degree opens up more doors and gives access to higher-level work and pay. It is both an academic and professional qualification that will equip you with the tools to navigate modern social work practice. You will learn about the ethics of the role, as well as the relevant law, and some potential specialisms, such as working with children or people with mental health illnesses. Most, if not all courses, will have plenty of work experience placements so students can collect a portfolio of work and begin to explore the specific areas in which they want to concentrate. The entry requirements are set by individual universities, but it’s likely to be in the region of three A Levels at grade B, or a high level BTECH, plus that all important experience. 

Postgraduate routes to social work 

Postgraduate Diplomas and Master's in Social Work are another route into this career. They will take about a year to 14 months to complete, and will again involve work placements for hands on experience. Entry requirements vary, but many institutions place a particular emphasis on having experience, either professional or voluntary, that proves a genuine interest in this career. 

Alternative pathways to social work 

The Step up to Social Work programme is an intensive, 14-month, full-time course for people who want to become a social worker but do not have a relevant degree. You will need a minimum 2:2 undergraduate degree qualification, or equivalent, and up to six months worth of relevant experience. 

The Frontline Programme, run by England’s largest social work charity, is a three-year social work training programme, in which you will qualify as a social worker, complete a Master’s degree and earn while you train. You will receive a bursary in year one and a salary from year two, while you study for a fully funded Master’s degree. 

Registration and practice 

Social workers must be registered with Social Work England before they start work. They will then need to renew their membership each year and pay registration fees.  

Finding a job in social work 

Once you have qualified and registered you will be ready to find your first job in social care and support work. You could sign up to an agency to get experience or look for roles with local authorities and the NHS, among countless other places. Remember that you will be applying to work with some of society’s most vulnerable people, so showing warmth, care, and a genuine passion for helping people is a must. 

Learn more about a career in Social Work

Working with social workers and organisations across the UK, we connect the right people with the right roles to help you carry out the crucial work you do.

Learn more about a career in Social Work

Specialising as a social worker 

This is a broad industry that can take you in many directions. You could choose to work with children, or vulnerable adults, people with mental health disorders, or youth work and community development. Some areas will require specific training like a Master’s or a post graduate diploma, while others might allow you to train on the job.  

Career progression and development 

Social work is a structured career with opportunities for promotion and advancement. As with many frontline jobs, the more advanced you get, the less time you might actually spend with the people who need your care, instead moving into planning and strategy roles. The opportunities to make a wider difference can also increase though, and as a senior social worker or manager, you can use your experiences to ensure that you create the best care packages.  

All social workers regardless of their seniority have to undergo ‘Continuous Professional Development’ (CPD) as part of their registration with Social Work England. This involves moments of self reflection, refreshing your knowledge of the industry guidelines about care and ethics, and demonstrating a sound knowledge of the current societal issues that are impacting social work. 

Challenges and rewards of social work 

Challenges and rewards of social work 

Social work is an essential job. You make a difference to the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable people and you can help them through their hardest times. You can be support, you could be a friend, and you can be someone who pushes to get the right things done. It is certainly not an easy career and there can be some emotional heavy lifting involved, but you can gain strength in the knowledge that you are making a difference and doing important work. 

Is a social worker the right role for you?  

If being a support worker or social worker appeals to you, take time to research the industry and gain an understanding of its breadth. It offers many paths and opportunities, and will enable you to build a stable and meaningful career, with opportunities for advancement through training programmes and experience.  

Resources and further reading 

Professional Associations and Networking Groups 

Recommended books on social work career development 

  • The Social Work Degree Apprenticeship 
  • Counselling Skills and Theory 
  • Theory and Practice: A Straightforward Guide for Social Work Students