Thanks to Wilfrid Laurier University’s new online Master of Social Work program, higher education in the discipline has never been more accessible to those with an undergraduate degree—whether that degree is in social work or otherwise. As one of the finest social work schools in the country, Laurier prepares graduates to fill some of the field’s most desirable and important jobs.
The Difference a Master’s Makes
Not long ago on the blog, we looked at the comparison between what a student learns during a Bachelor of Social Work versus a Master’s program. The key differences provided by a Master’s degree are:
- More Specialized Knowledge: Achieving expertise in the field requires an awareness of the different areas of specialization in social work, and determining which focus might be right for you. In your undergraduate years, you learn general principles and theory. During your Master’s, you fine-tune your skills and knowledge in order to enhance and elevate your practice.
- Theoretical Perspectives: Understanding the nature of the forces that give rise to inequality, as well as the latest thinking on how to improve delivery of care, positions you to take on a leadership/management role, and contribute to breakthroughs in the field.
- A Leg Up on the Competition: All things being equal between two candidates for a highly sought after job, the one with the higher level of education tends to win out.
The Job Market for Social Workers
Whether the term “social worker” is part of their formal job title or not, you’ll find social work graduates applying their expertise throughout Canada’s hospitals, shelters, schools and beyond. Salary expectations range accordingly, with reported yearly wages in Canada ranging from $57,000 to $108,900 depending on position and seniority. Here are a few of the most common jobs for graduates of an online Master of Social Work program in Canada:
Public Policy Social Worker
There are many ways for social workers to make an impact on society beyond direct care. Public policy social workers often use their academic training to analyze the potential impacts of policy decisions on matters like public housing developments, community health initiatives and the delivery of social services on a macro scale. They may also help with organizational training, and handling logistics for bigger projects. These experts typically work for the government or in the nonprofit sector. This is an opportunity for Master’s graduates to bring about systemic changes that benefit vulnerable populations.
Administrative Social Worker
Master of Social Work programs are intended to produce graduates who feel comfortable taking on leadership roles, which comes in handy for those who choose to become administrative social workers. This is a management-level position. Administrators mix a deep understanding of social work principles with organizational savvy: they are often responsible for budgeting, resource-allocation, managing staff, developing programs, grant writing and more. They have the opportunity to shape the organizations they work for from top to bottom, and create stronger social institutions.
Behavioural Health Clinician
In a clinical social work position, mental health or behavioural health clinicians work with primary care physicians in hospital and clinical settings. While medical doctors work to restore the healthy functioning of damaged or diseased bodies, Master’s-level social workers work alongside patients to help them along their road to recovery, and to find meaning in the face of health challenges. They co-create strategies to help those with chronic psychiatric issues live satisfying lives, while simultaneously coordinating with community health organizations, family, and friends to ensure ongoing support.
Crisis workers are at the front line of care, working with emergency mental health services at hospitals, shelters and treatment facilities to handle the most urgent cases. At the Master’s level, their work is divided between direct care, such as performing patient assessments and monitoring the course of their treatment, and contributing to planning and policy to improve the delivery of services.
Family is a fundamental part of our personal lives, and can be a crucial source of support for those in vulnerable circumstances; unfortunately, any family may experience a crisis. The timely intervention of a family counsellor into a domestic dispute can change lives, especially where children are involved. But in order to justify a family’s trust in allowing a stranger into their private lives, the counsellor must have sound training. Many organizations will not hire a family counsellor with less than a Master’s degree because of the delicacy of the situations counsellors must negotiate. This is an appropriate position for those who have chosen to specialize in work with children and adolescents.
Upgrading Your Education
Career success in any field relies on a combination of academic training and direct experience, which is why an online program like Laurier’s makes sense. By working throughout your Master’s degree, you have the opportunity to gain relevant experience on top of your placement hours, while taking your classes on your own time. Within 2.5 years, you can be a fully certified social worker with a MSW degree—with the equivalent number of years in the workforce. With that combination, you’re well prepared to get the job you’ve aspired to.