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Making Your Way: Opportunities in Social Services

An old proverb says: “Progress, not perfection.” Despite advances in technology and government, social problems persist–poverty, addiction, and limited access to healthcare continue to dog our civilization. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but you needn’t let it paralyze you. Every day, social service workers fight the good fight. If you’ve ever wanted to take some of the small steps that add up to big change, a career in social services may be right for you.

Broadly speaking, social service is an umbrella term encompassing various careers. The common goal of social service work is to provide aid–legal, medical, financial, etc.–to those in need. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), community and social service occupations employed over 1.7 million as of May 2007. That number included occupations ranging from probation officers and correctional treatment specialists to social workers, school counselors–even marriage and family therapists.

Growing Opportunity
One of the strongest incentives to enter a social service career is the rapid expansion of the employment opportunity. Over the next ten years, employment in many social service careers is expected to increase. Social workers, for example, should see employment increase 22 percent during between 2006 and 2016. Over the same period, marriage and family therapists, as well as substance abuse counselors should see a jump of 30 percent in employment.

One social service career experiencing particularly rapid growth is geriatric care. Geriatric care may provide many career opportunities in the near future. According to Larry Minnix, CEO of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, in the next ten years, “geriatric care managers will be one of the most important roles in the whole health services delivery system.”

The data on America’s rapidly expanding senior population seem to agree. By 2030, the number of Americans older than 65 is expected to reach 71 million. The Freedonia Group, a research firm, estimates revenue for elder care services should grow 6.6 percent annually through 2011.

Education for Social Service Careers
If you’re interested in pursuing a social service career, education is an important first step. Most social service careers require you to have some form of postsecondary training, and many require advanced degrees and state licensure. For example, social workers typically need a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) for entry-level positions. However, if you major in psychology, sociology, or a related field, you can also lay the academic groundwork for further career development–and college degrees, in social work. Social workers in clinical and healthcare settings (five in ten, according to the BLS) typically need master’s degrees. Similarly, if you’re interested in practicing as a counselor, a master’s degree is traditionally a must. If you wish to practice in the public employ, you may also need state licensure.

Whatever the job, social work can be challenging, yet rewarding. In the words of Beverly Bernstein Joie, co-founder of Philadelphia-based Elder Connections (a nonprofit practice providing home help to the elderly), “This work satisfies two parts of myself: the part that loves to take care of people and the part that wants to be a businesswoman.”

And that’s what really counts. After all, the most important requirement for social service work is a strong desire to help others. If you’re also emotionally mature, sensitive to the problems of others, and capable of forming strong, courteous relationships, you may already have what it takes–and ample reason–to make your way in social service.

New York Times, “Drawing a Map for the Later Years”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Counselors”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Employment and Wages: Community and Social Service Occupations”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Social Workers”


Publish date: January 11, 2009