Many enter the field of social work because of a deep desire to help vulnerable populations and bring about justice in our society. An unexpected bonus is that social work occupations are projected to surge in the next few years.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work jobs are expected to increase by 13 percent from 2019 to 2029, more than the average for all occupations. This growth is attributed to an increase in life expectancy, a growing aging population, and the need to offer relief to struggling people and groups.
Beyond the number of job openings increasing, social workers can also expect to earn a good income, with the median annual salary being $50,470. Notably, a master’s in social work can expand your job opportunities, broaden your career horizons, and even command a higher than average salary. If you’re on the social work career track (or are considering this path), here are five rapidly growing careers in social work for you to consider.
1. Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker
Many people in the U.S. suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. In 2017, approximately 8.5 million people were battling both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder. The two conditions affect people of all economic classes and age groups. In line with these statistics, the growth rate for mental health and substance abuse social workers is expected to be 17 percent.
These social workers can work in hospitals, social service organizations, residential treatment centers, and health clinics. Mental health and substance abuse social workers may also choose to go into private practice to offer counseling or psychotherapy. Social workers in this area can expect a salary range of $46,110 to $58,630.
The primary responsibilities for mental health and substance abuse social workers can include:
- Examining and treating persons with emotional, mental, and substance abuse issues such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.
- Monitoring patients’ progress regarding treatment goals.
- Partnering with physicians, nurses, and counselors to coordinate treatment.
- Advocating for clients and providing individual and group therapy, education, and case management.
- Helping family members to understand and support the patient.
2. Geriatric Social Worker
The elderly population in the U.S. is increasing. In 2019, 22 percent of Americans were older than 65, and that figure is forecasted to reach 39 percent by 2050. With the population of seniors growing, the demand for geriatric social workers is also skyrocketing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the geriatric social work profession will grow by approximately 20 percent in the next ten years.
With increasing demand, people who pursue this type of social work will have job security and can expect a median salary of $60,000. These social workers serve in nursing homes, mental health clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, senior centers, and community health centers.
Geriatric social workers have responsibilities such as:
- Assessing and meeting seniors' needs.
- Helping seniors and their families get services like home healthcare and special transportation.
- Assisting seniors as they transition to assisted living facilities.
- Educating patients and families on their rights and responsibilities.
- Advocating for the needs of their clients.
- Promoting clients' mental health through counseling and referral to therapists and psychologists.
- Identifying signs of elderly neglect or abuse.
- Recognizing normal and abnormal aging trends.
3. Veteran Affairs Social Worker
Veterans are symbols of patriotism, willingness to serve, and love for our country. However, when these heroes return from war, they can experience many issues, especially when reintegrating into everyday life. Social workers can assist these veterans with mental health counseling, disability compensation, housing-related assistance, education, and training.
They can work in VA medical centers and VA programs such as Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV), Support Services for Veteran Families (SSVF), and Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO). Depending on location, social workers in this sector earn between $49,765 and $59,760.
What responsibilities are typically part of a veteran’s affairs social worker career? They:
- Assist veterans in applying for benefits from VA and other organizations.
- Help manage the social, emotional, familial, and psychological challenges of returning from war or active duty.
- Offer counseling and support to veterans and their families.
- Provide outreach to homeless veterans and assist them with resources to improve their situation.
- Advocate for the mental, emotional, physical, and social wellbeing of veterans.
4. Healthcare Social Worker
Social workers who choose to enter the healthcare field have promising career prospects, as this sector has a projected growth of 20 percent or 35,400 new positions over the next decade. Healthcare social workers can work in nursing homes, hospital wards, and physical rehabilitation facilities, among many other settings. These social workers typically receive some of the highest wages, with an average annual salary of $59,300.
The responsibilities of healthcare social workers can include:
- Offering psychosocial support to help individuals, families, and groups cope with chronic, acute, or terminal illnesses.
- Advising family caregivers on their treatment and care options, and advocating for their desires.
- Collaborating with other medical professionals to assess a patient's condition and needs.
- Offering patient education and counseling.
- Referring patients or families to community resources that aid in recovery.
- Eradicating barriers to healthcare access.
5. Child Welfare Social Worker
If you have a passion for children and their welfare, you should consider a career in child welfare social work. In this specialized sector of social work, you’ll have the opportunity to make a significant and meaningful impact in a child’s life. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the demand for child and family social workers is projected to increase by 16 percent over the next several years.
These social workers find careers with non-profit organizations, child advocacy agencies, and foster care and adoption agencies. The average annual salary for child welfare social workers is $49,760, but this can increase depending on where you work. A bachelor's degree in social work qualifies you for entry-level roles, while a master's degree opens up opportunities in higher levels of care and supervisory functions.
The critical responsibilities of a child welfare social worker can include:
- Protecting kids from neglect, abuse, and mistreatment.
- Ensuring the physical, social, emotional, and psychological wellbeing of children.
- Placing kids with foster care and adoptive families, and vetting those families who will receive children.
- Investigating cases of child abuse and neglect.
- Reporting and maintaining case files.
Begin (or Switch to) a Career in Social Work Today!
The future of the social work field is bright. With a career in social work, you’ll have the opportunity to help humanity while enjoying a fulfilling career and pursuing your professional goals. Additionally, there are many more specializations and areas for social work practice beyond these rapidly growing careers—meaning there’s a place for everyone!
If you’re considering changing careers and entering the field of social work, we have resources to help you. Explore our comprehensive guide: How and Why You Should Switch to a Career in Social Work, where we walk you through every step of the process and provide helpful tips and insights from our social work professionals.
At the Garland School of Social Work, we’re committed to helping you gain the knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience you need to make a difference in your community and in the world. Request more information today or schedule a quick chat with one of our MSW Student Ambassadors, to learn more about our program and have your questions answered.