Social workers are the mesh that holds Canada’s social safety net in place, providing a range of services that includes preventing vulnerable populations from falling into poverty, and giving those already impoverished the means to improve their condition. Wherever there are people in Canada, there is a need for social workers, from remote arctic communities and Indigenous communities to urban centres and farming towns. In most provinces, a Bachelor of Social Work is the minimum degree required to become a registered social worker since this provides graduates with a solid general background in the discipline, along with invaluable internship hours in the field. But why do so many people choose to obtain a Master of Social Work (MSW)? That’s our subject on the blog today.
Generalists vs. Specialists
Bachelor’s programs are intended to provide foundational knowledge and to familiarize students with concepts they’ll deal with on a day to day basis on the job. Internships help budding social workers become comfortable working directly with the people accessing services, while learning how to apply their skills in a variety of contexts. A BSW provides a foundation to build upon for new graduates to explore the field of social work in a broad range of settings. But modern social work has become a highly-specialized discipline, and the knowledge you’ll need to work in a counselling center is quite different from what’s required at a shelter, for example. That’s why many jobs, such as those at hospitals, require the knowledge of advanced practices and therapeutic interventions taught in Master of Social Work programs. Also, even though some of the systemic and policy issues that underlie social inequities are discussed in a BSW program, those discussions are necessarily limited at the undergraduate level. If you have an idea in mind of where you hope to practice and what kinds of settings you think might fit your goals, try Googling job listings to see how many of them require a social work master’s.
A Macro-Level Perspective
Many management-level positions in particular favour those with a Master of Social Work. While social workers who work directly with clients are essential, managers and administrators must have a stronger background in the social and systemic dynamics that create inequality in order to effect change through programming. As the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE) notes, “students at the master’s level can apply a set of perspectives and theories in social work to a critical analysis of professional and institutional practices.” (CASWE is the organization responsible for accrediting social work programs, including Wilfrid Laurier University’s Master of Social Work programs). MSW graduates are thus well-positioned to take on leadership roles, maximize limited resources and develop innovative solutions.
Research & Theory
Often when we think of what social workers actually do, we think of field work, but they also make important contributions to research and theory. Presenting an alternative (and complementary) perspective to sociology and psychology, social work experts seek to understand how applied theory has actually affected those most in need of help. A social work master’s provides the advanced research foundation necessary to take part in this high-level discourse, and to contribute new insights to the literature.
A Jump Start in the Field
The final reason to consider upgrading to a Master of Social Work degree is the most pragmatic of all: there are more BSW graduates emerging from Canadian universities than ever before, meaning that competition for the most desired jobs is fiercer than ever. Even if your desired career path doesn’t explicitly require an MSW from the outset, obtaining this credential will set you apart from those looking at certain positions and it may be easier to secure a promotion down the line once you have found a position. Moreover, Laurier offers an online Master of Social Work for those who did not obtain a BSW, now making it easier than ever for those who are already in the field of social work looking to get a jumpstart on their next career move.
In the end, an MSW makes you better at what you do, and that can only help those you serve, in whatever capacity that will be.
“A Comparison between CASWE Standards and the CSWE, OTSTCFQ and CCSWR Competencies.” Anne-Marie Spera, 2013. https://caswe-acfts.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/ReportfinalSpera.pdf