Social work education is not a static, one-and-done experience. If you are a social worker, a commitment to social work professional development is an ongoing pursuit.
Social work professional development includes a range of formative practices such as training, credentialing and networking to enhance a social worker’s effectiveness.
As the social landscape is continually changing, it is critical for professional social workers to strive for the most current knowledge and insights in their respective areas.
The National Association of Social Workers cites continuing education as a fundamental contributor to professional development.
According to NASW’s Rules of Professional Education, social workers who consistently participate in educational opportunities can “maintain and increase their proficiency in service delivery” by developing expertise and sharpening skills—resulting in changed lives.
Because the cornerstone of social work professional development is education, a Master of Social Work degree helps you find your desired specialty and opens doors to new career paths.
However, a degree is just the beginning of your education. Social work requires that you grow professionally and take advantage of new learning opportunities throughout your career.
Career Opportunities and Social Work Professional Development
According to The Guardian, social work is the fastest-growing profession internationally, and the statistics indicate even more significant expansion in coming years.
Statistics specific to the United States also indicate very promising employment outlooks for social workers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects social work employment to grow by 13% in the next decade—nearly 10% higher than the average career.
Here are some employment outlook statistics for specific careers in social work from 2019–2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
- 12% growth in child, family and school roles
- 14% growth in health care positions
- 17% growth in mental health and substance abuse areas
One of the best ways to find your niche in today’s promising job market is by joining a social work professional development organization to maximize your opportunities and advance your career.
Professional Development Organizations
Professional social work organizations connect social workers across the world, offering valuable networking and training opportunities for students and graduates.
Social workers advance their knowledge of the profession by learning from one another, so community interaction plays a vital role in career development.
These organizations provide a way to share new ideas between professionals and students alike. They also help social workers find employment and career advancement opportunities.
Many professional organizations run job boards, provide student membership discounts, and host events for early-career professionals.
By organizing training seminars and other events, they allow members to network and learn new approaches and skills.
These organizations offer many other benefits to members, such as educational resources, free publications and news updates.
There are many professional development organizations geared toward the advancement of careers in social work. General organizations like these include:
- National Association of Social Workers: The NASW is the most popular membership organization focused on social work professional development, with over 120,000 members.
- International Federation of Social Workers: The IFSW represents more than three million social workers and 120 professional social work associations.
- Society for Social Work and Research: The SSWR is a nonprofit that emphasizes research in social work and how it can be utilized by professionals in all specializations.
- Council on Social Work Education: The CSWE promotes quality social work education. They support social workers by offering activities, initiatives and centers to provide opportunities for leadership and professional development.
Social work professional development organizations can help you to:
- Expand your knowledge of the profession and career opportunities.
- Practice effective social work that integrates modern trends.
- Support individuals and communities intentionally.
Career Development in Specialized Social Work
As your social work career progresses, you may choose to specialize in specific fields of practice.
Common areas of specialization may include international social work, child and family emphasis, school social work, a focus with aging populations, management social work and clinical supervision.
To specialize, social workers often choose to complete a professional certificate in their selected fields of study.
Organizations for specialized social work professional development include:
- American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry: AAGP represents members in geriatric psychiatry on a national level. The organization offers networking opportunities, a members-only website, free educational resources and discounts on annual meetings.
- American Board of Clinical Social Work: The ABCSW offers a place where social work students and professionals share ideas and network. They post new stories and up-to-date trends regarding professional social work.
- Association of Oncology Social Work: Social workers who help cancer patients and their families rely on AOSW for news about the latest research, networking opportunities and professional development resources.
- Clinical Social Work Association: CSWA is an organization for professional clinical social workers. The association provides professional development resources, a jobs board and licensing support for members.
- American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children: spreads awareness about the abuse and neglect of children. The society promotes the intervention and treatment of mistreated children. They offer free publications, resources and discounts on clinics.
- National Association of Black Social Workers: The NABSW supports and represents African-American social work professionals. The organization emphasizes the development of the Black community and social justice issues within it.
- National Rural Social Work Caucus: The NRSWC specializes in issues involving rural social work. The caucus hosts conferences, provides continuing education resources and offers access to journals and other research.
- School Social Work Association of America: The SSWAA is an organization dedicated to empowering school social workers and promoting their profession in order to improve the emotional, social and academic growth of students.
- Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care: SSWLHC supports social workers in healthcare, providing continuing education resources, networking opportunities and member discounts.
Continuing Education and Social Work Professional Development
The career of social work requires that its professionals stay informed and up-to-date with current trends.
While this continuing education is practical for applying the latest research and understanding new regulations, it is also a requirement for updating professional licensing and certification.
What is Licensing in Social Work?
While a master’s in social work is vital for career advancement, licenses granted by regulatory boards are also essential.
For example, a social worker who holds an MSW but not a clinical licensure (LCSW) is not legally permitted to practice one-to-one therapy with clients.
In order to maintain licensure in most states, social workers must participate in regular continuing education practices. This equips you to stay current with modern research and new professional practices.
Continuing education also helps you stay in touch with other professionals and gives you an opportunity to network.
Since licensing varies from state to state, there are a multitude of specific titles and levels of certification. The most common requirement for these licenses is a master’s in Social Work.
You can access the list of licensing requirements for your state at the Association of Social Work Board’s database.
Here are some examples of licenses requiring an MSW that are found in most states:
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Master’s Social Worker (LMSW)
- Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
What Is a Social Work Credential?
Credentials, which are also known as professional certifications, are the next step in social work professional development. Unlike educational degrees or licenses, credentials are entirely voluntary.
According to the NASW, “Voluntary credentials denote professional commitment and achievement and represent a ‘ license plus’ feature of certifying knowledge and experience that meets or exceeds excellence in social work at the national level.”
A social work credential proves an individual's dedication to their field. Certificates denote an in-depth knowledge of the profession as well as significant work experience.
Credentials prepare social workers for leadership roles.
Social Work Professional Development Can Advance Your Career
The modern social work role can take a variety of different forms, and veteran social workers often acquire a broad competency working at different levels—from serving the needs of individuals and families to implementing systemic change.
Social work professional development often helps professional social workers see their specific role in a global framework. The versatility of the profession fosters a big-picture perspective for individuals in specialized areas.
Continuing education can equip you to maximize the scale of the work you do and also allow you to explore the various sectors of social work.
Ashton’s Story: Discovering New Possibilities
Take Ashton Sanchez, for example. Before graduating from Florida State University’s MSW program, Ashton worked as a child welfare case manager and human trafficking specialist. Though she was pleased with the work she was doing, she soon realized she lacked a key ingredient in her formula for success.
Ashton writes, “What was holding me back from doing more for the children and families I served was my lack of a master's degree. If I wanted to continue to advance in the child welfare field, I needed to advance my education.” When she started at FSU, Ashton was surprised by how effective an MSW program can be, and she was pleased to discover how promptly she saw results. “Once I began taking classes, I started receiving promotions right away,” Ashton writes.
Now Ashton works at the University of Miami in the Pediatric Infectious Medicine Department. She provides therapeutic services to patients and their families, particularly babies, children and adolescents who are HIV positive. Because of her decision to continue her education, she was able to explore a new sector of social work while incorporating her primary passion for childcare.
Dana’s Story: Following a New Career Path
For Dana Pina, another Florida State MSW graduate, social work professional development looks a little different. Prior to receiving her master’s, Dana worked as a registered nurse treating elderly patients, many of whom lacked any support system. She found that her patients needed much more than her nursing abilities could provide. They needed therapy, supervision, education and guidance.
Dana writes, “After about six years in nursing, I realized that my greatest impact on my patients had less to do with my clinical nursing skills and more to do with the social support I was providing.”
Throughout her time in the MSW program, Dana studied elder support, medical social work and clinical social work. She says, “I currently work in population health in a position that utilizes my clinical nursing experience while also giving me the opportunity to flex my social work and case management muscles.” By continuing her education, Dana supplemented her nursing credentials with a social work master’s and advanced her career in both fields.
Why Pursue a Master’s in Social Work from Florida State University?
Florida State University’s online Master of Social Work program equips students with an educational foundation and hands-on professional experience that opens doors to exciting career opportunities.
The program’s innovative online curriculum focuses on the current state of the field, analyzing modern trends in social work and exploring the latest technology. Coursework also examines the newest career outlook insights and prepares graduates for the future of social worker responsibility.