Social Work Professional Development: What’s the Value of an MSW for my Career?

Social Work Professional Development
Social Work Professional Development

Social worker professional development paths vary by state and specialization. Social workers complete courses, attend workshops and pursue other opportunities to stay current on the latest issues facing clients. There is also a strong trend toward the Master of Social Work (MSW) as an important step in achieving social work career goals.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 12% growth in social work positions from 2020 to 2030. The highest-growth specialties - healthcare and mental health - are best served by social workers with MSW degrees. We’ll see how social work professional development and an MSW can maximize your support for clients.

Social Workers' Impacts on their Communities

The social work profession focuses on identifying and remedying problems for clients of all ages. Specialization means that social workers may help patients after significant health changes, students with academic struggles, and families with financial troubles. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) explains why social workers are important:

“Social workers deal with the external factors that impact a person's situation and outlook. And we create opportunities for assessment and intervention, to help clients and communities cope effectively with their reality and change that reality when necessary.”

Social Workers' Impacts on their Communities

Where Are Social Workers Employed?

The BLS estimates that 49.4% of social workers are child, family, and school social workers. Most social workers find employment in healthcare, mental health, substance abuse, and other specializations.

People in need of social services interact with social workers in various settings. BLS estimates for the profession list the most common employers below:

  • Individual and family services (18%)
  • Local government agencies (14%)
  • Ambulatory healthcare services (14%)
  • State government agencies (14%)

Taking the Lead as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Social workers rely on lessons from Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) courses in serving their clients. They can magnify their impacts on communities in need as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). An MSW and continued social work professional development open the door to LCSW certification.

LCSWs offer therapeutic services to clients facing issues ranging from substance abuse to relationship issues. They can work in private practice with children, couples, and individuals without supervision by a psychiatrist or psychologist. Their experiences as social workers provide important insights into social contexts for client challenges.

Social Work Professional Development Options

Social workers need to continually hone their skills and knowledge to help their clients.
While there isn’t a singular national standard for professional development in social work, the NASW recommends 48 hours of continuing education every two years including:

  • Formally organized seminars, workshops, and other learning events
  • Conferences and panel presentations
  • Self-directed growth experiences including journal reviews and writing for publication

Social work licensing requirements vary from state to state. For example, New York requires 36 hours of continuing education - or one hour per month - during each three-year period of registration. The New York State Office of the Professions includes the following examples of qualifying continuing education activities:

  • Teaching new material in a course at a state-approved educator;
  • Presenting at a professional event approved by the state;
  • Completing up to 12 hours of approved self-study;
  • Authoring a first-time book or article on licensed social work practice.

State licensing requirements and NASW standards provide flexibility in professional development choices. Social workers often set career goals like serving overlooked groups, advocating for improved services, and advancing the profession. The impacts of continuing education are magnified with advanced lessons learned in an MSW program.

The Growing Importance of an MSW

The Growing Importance of an MSW

There has been significant growth in MSW enrollment over the past decade. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) identified a 25.9% enrollment increase during that period. This trend far exceeded the 7.5% growth in enrollment for undergraduate social work programs.

The MSW is a prerequisite for LCSWs who want to fill a growing need for mental health practitioners. The Steinberg Institute reports that 55% of counties have no psychiatrists, creating opportunities for LCSW practices. A 2020 report from CSWE and NASW reveals additional reasons why the MSW has grown in prominence.

Practice Focus and Geography

MSW graduates possess the skills necessary to work in communities of different sizes. There were only 23.9% of MSWs working in cities with one million residents or more in 2020. We see a relatively even distribution of MSWs in the following community types:

  • 25.3% in cities with 250,000 to one million residents;
  • 15.2% in the suburbs surrounding medium and large cities;
  • 35.6% in communities with fewer than 250,000 residents.

Eighty-two percent of MSW-trained professionals directly work with individual clients and groups. Clinical training and continuing education prepare social workers for overlapping challenges facing their clients. MSWs reported at least half of their clients experienced these high-need situations::

  • Below the federal poverty level (68.5% )
  • Eligible for Medicaid coverage (66.9%)
  • Experiencing mental health disorders (65.8%)

Opening Career Advancement Opportunities

There is a broad spectrum of job titles reported by MSW graduates across the country. Advanced social work training translates well to government, educational, and private-sector positions. CSWE and NASW listed the following positions held by survey respondents in 2020:

  • Adoption and Foster Recruitment Supervisor
  • Clinical Care Coordinator
  • Forensic Interviewer
  • School Coordinator

Job Satisfaction Boost

MSW courses provide the social work professional development needed for more fulfilling careers. Staying current on the latest trends and techniques often translates into better outcomes for clients. CSWE and NASW reported that 90.4% of newly employed MSWs were very or somewhat satisfied with their current positions.

Accessibility to Social Workers with Undergraduate Degrees

A majority of social workers (60.8%) enter MSW programs with less than two years of experience in the field. The remaining 39.2% of MSW graduates were experienced social workers when they started their programs. Keuka College’s Online MSW program provides social work professional development paths for all experience levels. 

Working toward Social Work Career Goals at Keuka College

The Online MSW offers Traditional and Advanced tracks for professionals seeking LCSW licensure. The Traditional Track is designed for graduates of non-social work programs interested in shifting to the social work profession. Students complete  60 credit hours and 900 field placement hours in three years of study.

BSW graduates already possess much of the foundational knowledge in the Traditional Track. The Advanced Track accelerates the path to clinical social work roles for students with BSW. Advanced Track candidates complete 33 credit hours and 500 field placements in less than two years of enrollment.

Keuka College’s experienced faculty impart important lessons for the professional development of social work students. MSW students receive personalized assistance in identifying field placements in their communities. Each student works with a student support advisor to make their Keuka College experience as beneficial as possible.

Find out how Keuka College’s Online MSW options contribute to your professional development as a social worker.