Years ago a friend of mine was trying to talk her college age son out of a career in social work. She joked, “If he was going to help people, she wanted him to go into something better paying and less dangerous – like police work, a SWAT team or Special Forces in any branch of the military.” They lived in New York and she was a nurse. She knew what male social workers faced – tough cases in tough neighborhoods.
“Look!” she said, waving an Army brochure in front of him.
“You get a free t-shirt just for watching the recruiting film.”
“I have plenty of t-shirts,” he said.
“No you don’t. We gave them all to the homeless shelter over Christmas.”
He sighed. She wasn’t deterred.
“Look at this. If you join the Air Force you can fly home free for the holidays on military transports. Now that’s a job perk.”
“Mom, I’m pretty sure job one of the military is killing people. I want to help people.”
“Well, why not police work. You’d make a handsome cop. They help people. And they get to wear a gun while they’re helping.”
He didn’t buy it, thank God.
She gave up and he majored in social work, and later found his niche in psychology. I think he’s been a very happy and successful psychologist and specializes in helping child sexual abuse survivors. I’m sure it has its moments, but what job doesn’t?
I became a cop in 1983, then later a journalist, and for a while a massage therapist who worked with sexual abuse survivors myself. I too wanted to help people. First I sought out justice – police work. Then I wanted to expose and effect social change – a journalist. Finally I realized that one-on-one, one person at a time was most rewarding – until you burn out. I learned that when you’ve experienced a certain kind or level of violence and abuse yourself you either never want to think about it again, or you want to help others as they heal. For the compassionate heart there are few more rewarding jobs, or jobs with employment potential as social work.
According to a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009, Social Worker didn’t even make the top 15 jobs in America. Janitor did. So did retail clerk, accountant, food service worker, truck driver and “material mover” (warehouse worker).
Yet, Social Workers are expected to be one of the fastest growing professions in the United States in the next decades. According to the BLS:
- Employment of social workers is expected to increase by 16 percent during the 2008–18 decade, which is 14 to 19 percent faster than all occupations.
- Employment of child, family, and school social workers is expected to grow by about 12 percent, which is 7 to 13 percent faster than all occupations.
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers will grow by almost 20 percent over the 2008–18 decade, which is 14 to 19 percent faster than the average.
- Growth of medical and public health social workers is expected to be about 22 percent, which is which is 14 to 19 percent faster than the average for all occupations.
So, hang in there. If you’re considering a job, recently graduated, are in school to become a social worker – there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.