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Social Workers and Non-Traditional Careers: Making the Links

by Marlene Pomrenke and Heather Morris

Introduction

Results of a recent study completed by the authors indicate that social workers have congruent values and skills that fit for many non-traditional employment opportunities in social work (Pomrenke & Morris, 2010).  To complement and expand on these findings we examined the challenges for social work students in their career journey.

Research Process

There were three phases in our data collection including a focus group, individual semi-structured interviews and an on-line survey.  Social work students and recent graduates from post-secondary institutions across Canada participated in the on-line survey.

There were 103 social work students and/or recent graduates who participated in this study.  Over 80% were current social work students, with 60% either currently enrolled in social work or having completed an undergraduate degree in this field.

The participants reported learning about employment possibilities in a number of ways.  A primary method was through “word of mouth”, i.e. talking to peers, instructors, representatives of social work agencies, field placement/practicum supervisors, and guest speakers in their classes. As one participant stated, “Networking is a key component in a job search.”  Other students learned of career opportunities via on-line technology, i.e. government websites, or through job boards and career centres at the University.

Suggestions for Change 

Students made a number of suggestions on how career opportunities could be promoted amongst them.  These included having a mentor program where newer students could have access to second year students or recent graduates.  They also suggested that career planning should be included in the core curriculum, as many students do not understand how to access information about career specializations or explore non-traditional career options.  Many of the participants felt that better connections between social work faculties and social service agencies would allow for more dissemination of information and career possibilities.

Conclusion

The results of this study suggest that social work students still have a limited view of what career opportunities are available to them.  However, when questioned many of the participants, both social work students and recent graduates, appeared interested and open to work in non-traditional areas of social work.

It appears that there is a need for more information on alternatives in careers for social workers.  Information is not readily available on non-traditional areas of social work such as working for non-governmental organizations, student affairs in a university or other less known community organizations is not readily available.  More common areas of specialization, i.e. child welfare and addictions, are promoted and viewed as potential places of employment.

In order to help students search for alternative careers in social work, we need to find ways to empower them to conduct their own research and network within the community.  There are an amazing number of different career paths in social work.  Students and those considering social work as a profession simply need to consider alternatives and what the best ‘fit’ may be for each of them.

References

Pomrenke, M. & Morris, H. (2010). Understanding the fit between social work and student affairs in post-secondary institutions. Canadian Social Work Review (27),1, 63-78.

Marlene Pomrenke, MSW, PhD, has a doctorate in social work. She is an assistant professor and counsellor with the Student Counselling & Career Centre at the University of Manitoba.

Heather Morris, MSW, works as a Student Advocate in the department of Student Affairs at the University of Manitoba.

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