Jump to accessibility statement Skip to content

What does a social worker do?

Home / Student experience / Discover Sunderland blog / Education and Society / What does a social worker do?

Are you considering becoming a social worker but want to find out more about what this career involves? Here, we explore everything you need to know, including the roles and responsibilities of a social worker, the skills and qualifications you’ll need, and more about our social work courses.

Community and youth workers talking to young adults in a community centre

What are the roles and responsibilities of a social worker?

The role of a social worker is essentially aiming to make a difference to the lives of some of the most vulnerable individuals or families within our society, helping them to solve problems and offering support. Many of the things you’ll deal with as a social worker will be focused around issues such as social disadvantage, discrimination, and poverty, meaning that having a career in social work can be very emotionally rewarding, but incredibly demanding too.

Although you’ll probably specialise in one area of social work, your day-to-day job can vary as you'll be working on several cases at once, which is known as a caseload. Typical duties will include leading interviews with individuals or families to evaluate their situation, creating support plans, and writing up assessments and reports. Being a social worker will also require you to liaise with other external professionals, for example, you'll often interact with other agencies and make referrals where appropriate, or work alongside healthcare workers, the police, or education professionals.

Who do social workers work with?

If you’re pursuing a career in social work, who you work with will most likely depend on the specific field you choose to work in. This may include:

  • Children or young people and their families
  • Young offenders
  • The elderly
  • Homeless people
  • Refugees and asylum seekers
  • People with disabilities
  • People with mental health conditions
  • Drug or alcohol abusers
  • Foster carers and adopters.

Given the diverse nature of the job, a social worker’s place of work may be in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, the criminal justice system, private companies, or charities and voluntary organisations.

What key skills do you need to be a social worker?

There are many key skills which make a great social worker and are highly valued by employers. As you’ll be building relationships to better the lives of some of the most marginalised in our society, empathy is one of the most important qualities for a social worker to have – good listening and communication skills and being able to see things from numerous points of view are crucial to a career in social work.

Working with such individuals also requires resilience, patience, flexibility, and the ability to accept criticism, as you’ll often be dealing with challenging behaviour. It will often be necessary to make some difficult decisions, so it’s essential as a social worker to learn how to work under pressure and be a good problem-solver.

As you’ll be juggling multiple cases at any given time, excellent organisation is also a must when it comes to managing your own workload.

“The best part of the course was the challenge and the approach to social work. The tutors were able to give me time and guidance when it was needed. During my final placement, I managed to secure employment as a social worker in a different local authority to the one I was placed with. This role has enabled me to put my experience, knowledge, and theory into practice. My advice to future social work students is to know what social work involves, research the area you think would be interesting and identify the role of the social worker.”

Iain Yassin
BA (Hons) Social Work

How much does a social worker get paid?

How much you earn as a social worker will vary depending on many things, such as the local authority you work within, your skills and experience, and your location, amongst other factors. Salaries for newly qualified social workers usually start around £27,000, however, if your first job is with the NHS, you’ll usually enter at band 6 where the starting salary is £32,306.

Once you’ve built on your experience or progress into more senior roles, social workers within local authorities can expect to be paid up to £42,000, and those working for the NHS would move up to band 7 where the annual salary ranges between £40,057 and £45,839.

What qualifications do I need to be a social worker?

If a career in social work sounds like something you'd be interested in, you must hold either an approved honours or postgraduate degree and be registered with Social Work England, or the corresponding equivalent in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. All our social work courses at the University of Sunderland are approved by Social Work England and once you’ve registered after you graduate, you'll be required to renew this registration on an annual basis by continuing to train and learn through Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Our undergraduate social work degree is the BA (Hons) Social Work course, which has 100% Overall Satisfaction according to the National Student Survey, 2022. This degree can be completed in either three years by studying full-time, or six years part-time. During the course, you'll learn all about the role of a social worker and the legislation which is applicable to social work theory, research, ethics, and values. Importantly, you will complete practice placements in your second and third year where you'll have the opportunity to see what life is really like having a career as a social worker.

We also offer this social work degree as an Integrated Degree Apprenticeship, which allows you to study for a degree whilst gaining valuable ‘on the job’ experience. The course is funded through the Apprenticeship Levy, but you must already be working in a setting where you have day-to-day contact with service users and/or carers, with opportunities across the full range of knowledge, skills and behaviours in the Social Worker Apprenticeship Standard.

Our postgraduate social work degree is the MA Social Work, which can be undertaken as a full-time course across two years, or part-time over four years. This master's in social work combines classroom learning and practical experience, with two placement opportunities adding up to a total of 170 days. You will study topics such as the context of social work, legal and policy frameworks, and psychological and sociological theory.

A Law for Social Workers textbook on a table

Have we convinced you to take the next steps towards an exciting career in social work? Find out more information by visiting our course pages.

Published: 21 December 2022