How Can a Master of Social Work Degree Advance My Career?

How Can a Master of Social Work Degree Advance My Career?
How Can a Master of Social Work Degree Advance My Career?

If social work is your calling, entering an online Master of Social Work program may be the ideal next step for your career path.

Social workers serve a critical role in Canadian society as they support and serve citizens with a broad range of needs. Employed everywhere from hospitals to schools, government offices to private practices, and even in homes, social workers go where the people are. Social workers are highly skilled, compassionate professionals who address complex problems at both individual and collective levels.

An online Master of Social Work program equips social workers with theoretical knowledge and skills that directly influence and correlate with their day-to-day practice in local and global social issues affecting individuals and communities. A Master of Social Work program prepares its graduates for a variety of social work leadership positions, including roles in program administration, policy analysis, and management.

“One of the things I love about social work today is that it can take so many forms,” says social worker and author Michelle Hebert Void in a video for the Canadian Association of Social Workers. “.”

So, how can a Master of Social Work degree program advance your career? Let’s look into some of the social work career paths in Canada, and how a Master of Social Work program prepares graduates for expanded job opportunities, career advancement, and increased earning potential.

Social Work Career Paths

Potential job titles for graduates of a Master of Social Work program include:

  • Social Worker (MSW)
  • Public Policy Social Worker
  • Administrative Social Worker
  • Mental Health Therapist
  • Family Counsellor
  • Mental Health Clinician
  • Crisis Worker

Let’s take these professional roles one by one. We’ll look into their daily job responsibilities, qualifications, and salary ranges. Additionally, we’ll share case studies, stories, and quotes from actual social workers with these job titles in Canada.

Social Worker (MSW)

Social Worker (MSW)

Master of Social Work degree holders are qualified for advanced or specialized social worker positions in many health organizations, schools, recovery centers, shelters, and more. Sometimes these roles are listed as Master of Social Work, MSW, or Social Worker I – MSW. According to the National Occupation Listing for Social Worker at Statistics Canada, the role’s responsibilities include:

  • Interviewing clients to identify and evaluate their needs and develop a plan for meeting them.
  • Counseling and providing therapeutic services to clients.
  • Developing programs that benefit individuals and communities.
  • Advocating for client groups in the community.
  • Lobbying for, developing, and advising on social policy legislations.

Social workers with an MSW designation have wide-ranging job responsibilities — both outward-facing with their clients, and inward-facing with their coworkers and team members. In addition to being an academically skilled role, social work also requires strong interpersonal skills. According to the case study Service Users Tell Us What Makes Effective Social Workers, “service users identified numerous characteristics of effective social workers, including kindness, cultural awareness, and strong communication skills, as well as the need to articulate and address issues of professional suitability.”

A high-quality Master of Social Work program helps social workers develop both their academic “hard skills” and their interpersonal “soft skills.” Through a combination of classroom learning, discussion, and field placements, students in a Master of Social Work program increase their capacity for thinking and working within a diverse range of scenarios, communities, and complexities.

The average salary for a social worker with a Master of Social Work degree in Canada is $61,630. Clinical social workers who have completed both a Master of Social Work degree and licensing earn an average annual salary of $70,984.

Public Policy Social Worker

Master of Social Work graduates who are drawn to thinking about, and working to improve, large-scale systems may want to consider a role as a public policy social worker. While not all public policy social worker positions require a Master of Social Work degree, some do, including many social policy researcher, consultant, policy advisor, and government program officer positions.

Often employed by the government or within the non-profit sector, public policy social workers analyze initiatives to determine the ways they could affect people. They may study a community health policy or analyze the delivery of social services in a given community or area.

The Canadian Association of Social Workers helpfully outlines eight principles for evaluating federal social policy initiatives according to a a social work perspective:

  • dignity and respect
  • equality
  • equity
  • comprehensiveness
  • quality services
  • constitutional integrity
  • subsidiarity
  • social dialogue

Many social workers who are interested in researching and analyzing public policy go on to pursue doctoral degrees and become professors who teach others how to influence policy and protect vulnerable populations as well.

Administrative Social Worker

Administrative Social Worker

If you’re interested in leadership roles and organizational management, a Master of Social Work program prepares you for administrative roles that require a Master of Social Work degree, such as a director role at a child welfare office or a management position at an aid society. Titles like Clinical Director or Clinical Manager often require or prefer a candidate with a Master of Social Work degree. Such social workers function within management-level positions, combining their rich understanding of social work policies and principles with organizational structure.

For example, Simone Shindler, MSW, is Clinical Director at York Hills Centre for Children, Youth and Families in Ontario. In an interview for The Greenspace Journal, Shindler describes her participation in York Hills’ transition to remote service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even when the pandemic is over, York Hills plans to continue these new services, in part because of Shindler’s insight into the ongoing needs of their clients.

“We started a YouTube channel, have begun thinking about implementing a text-based service for youth and we have been strengthening our social media platforms to communicate our services and share psychoeducational material,” said Shindler. “Overall, outreach to families that otherwise may not have been able to access services has greatly expanded.”

Master of Social Work program graduates may also work at the managerial level — all the way up to executive director roles — in nursing homes and hospices centers. Administrative social workers may work within healthcare organizations as managers of various programs, such as transitional care, primary care, or child and family services.

The average salary for a non-profit program director in Canada is $65,756, while the executive directors of nonprofit organizations earn an average salary of $66,629. Clinical directors earn an average annual salary of $85,587.

Mental Health Therapist/Counsellor

Mental Health Therapist/Counsellor

If you want to develop your understanding of mental health needs and problems, as well as techniques and therapies that can lead to improved mental health, a Master of Social Work program can help you get there.

For example, Morneau Shepell Careers and Employment in British Columbia, Canada hires Master of Social Work program graduates as therapists for their “internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy program, which aims to support four conditions with five distinct programs: anxiety, depression, pain management, insomnia and the recently released pandemic anxiety.” Even in a pandemic era, and increasingly technological society, social workers are needed, employable, and making connections with people in need.

Many counsellor positions require a Master of Social Work degree due to the sensitive nature of counsellor-client relationships and the skills needed to provide effective counselling. Examples may include addictions counsellor, family counsellor, adult mental health social worker/counsellor, and domestic violence intervention counsellor.

Similarly, mental health social work roles in healthcare systems often require a Master of Social Work degree. Positions may include social worker roles for in-patient psychiatry units, outpatient mental health departments, and mental health and substance abuse programs.

The average mental health therapist hourly pay in Canada is $38.61.

Family Counsellor

Family counsellors work with parents, children, and extended family members both to prevent problems and trauma, and in response when problems or trauma have occurred.

For example, Community Bridge, an organization that provides “ education, support, and professional counselling programs for individuals and families to build and sustain more positive futures” employs Family Preservation Counsellors who offer in-home support to families referred to Community Bridge by the Province of British Columbia Ministry for Children and Family Development. Community Bridge also hires Domestic Peace Counsellors who help families identify and manage unhealthy or controlling behaviours and learn how to navigate conflict peacefully.

Family counsellors often work with clients in some of the most vulnerable moments of their lives. Clients may be suffering from abuse, poverty, job loss, relational conflict, or some combination of these traumas. The training provided to students in a Master of Social Work program equips social workers to come alongside families in some of their darkest moments and help them find the light.

The average salary for counsellors in Canada is $52,167 per year.

Crisis Workers

If you want to work in high-intensity emergency settings, a crisis worker role may be right for you. Crisis workers are employed by hospitals, shelters, and treatment facilities. They provide both direct care and help shape and reform policies to improve service to clients.

The Scarborough Health Network in Scarborough, Ontario, has a Hospital Crisis Program that supports patients who enter the emergency room at two of their hospitals. The program offers a 24/7, on-site crisis worker “to provide assistance for individuals experiencing an emotional or psychiatric crisis. The program’s services are extended to all Scarborough residents.”

If you want to pursue employment as a crisis worker, a Master of Social Work program can help you learn the critical skills necessary to respond to acute, immediate needs clients face, as well as how to work effectively on a team of practitioners who manage caseloads together in the pursuit of holistic care.

Crisis workers in Canada earn an average salary of $59,417 per year. More experienced crisis works make as much as $87,273 per year according to Neuvoo.

I’m Interested in Pursuing a Master of Social Work Degree. What Should I Do Now?

I’m Interested in Pursuing a Master of Social Work Degree. What Should I Do Now?

Wilfrid Laurier University offers both an online Master of Social Work program and a Master of Social Work - Advanced Standing program. Both programs are offered part time, which empowers students to complete their Master of Social Work degree while remaining employed and available for family and community commitments.

If you have a Bachelor of Social Work degree, Laurier’s Master of Social Work - Advanced Standing program may be the perfect next step for broadening your potential social work career path. If you have an undergraduate degree in another discipline, you’ll want to look into Laurier’s online Master of Social Work program. We’ll describe both of the programs here, starting with the online Master of Social Work program.

Wilfrid Laurier University’s Master of Social Work Program

What are the basics I need to know?
  • Coursework is 100% online and flexible.
  • You can complete the program in two to three years.
  • Your bachelor’s degree does not need to be in social work.
  • The program is fully accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education.
What are the admissions requirements?
  • Submit all transcripts from all universities or colleges attended. Transcripts must indicate:
    • At least a B average (73%-76%) in your last five full-credit/10 half-credit courses of a four-year undergraduate degree or graduate-level university work.
    • Academic background including at least four full (or eight half) social science courses and a half-credit course in qualitative research methodology.
  • Complete the personal statement form.
  • Prepare a summary of experience in human service organizations.
  • Submit a resume.
  • Present three reference letters (one academic and two professional).
  • Provide evidence of paid and/or voluntary experience in human service organizations. Two or more years of experience would be considered an asset.
What’s included in the program curriculum?

Laurier’s online Master of Social Work program builds on the social worker’s core values of equity, reflexivity, social justice, and inclusivity. Our coursework empowers social work practitioners to apply a reflexive approach, teaching them to take account of their personal experiences, biases, and understandings to observe how they affect interactions with diverse populations. The curriculum guides students in exploring concepts, perspectives, and theories from both micro and macro viewpoints.

Core I Courses include:

  • Approaches to Community Organizing and Group Practices
  • Research 1
  • Social Justice and Transformative Social Work Practices
  • Social Work Practices with Individuals
  • Introduction to Ethical Thought and Reflexive Practice

Upon completion of these core courses, students move on to Core II courses and foundation field education courses, such as:

  • Integrating Theory and Practice
  • Foundational Field Education
  • Social Work Practice with Families
  • Critical Social Policy and Activism
  • Critical Indigenous Knowledge in Social Work

Students will conclude their coursework with the following courses, electives, and advanced field education courses:

  • Social Change Social Action
  • Research 2
  • Advanced Qualitative Research A
  • Advanced Qualitative Research
  • Advanced Qualitative Research B
  • Advanced Mixed Methods Research:
  • Needs Assessments, Community Capacity Building Research and Program Evaluation
  • Reflexive Practices
  • Advanced Field Education
  • Advanced Social Work Practice with Individuals
  • Advanced Social Work Practice with Families

Work placement, which is labeled above as the field education courses, enables students to apply their classroom knowledge as professional social workers in practice environments. Students choose their placements according to their expertise and interest in coordination with the practicum coordinator.

Wilfrid Laurier University Master of Social Work - Advanced Standing Program

What are the basics I need to know?
  • 100% online coursework, designed to fit into your busy schedule.
  • May be completed in just a little over a year.
  • Accredited since 1974 and re-accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE) in 2012.
What are the admissions requirements?
  • Submit all transcripts from all universities or colleges attended. Transcripts must indicate:
    • At least a B+ average (77%- 79%) in your last five full-credit/10 half-credit courses of a four-year accredited Bachelor of Social Work degree.
    • Academic background including at least four full (or eight half) social science courses and a half-credit course in qualitative research methodology.
  • Complete the personal statement form.
  • Submit a resume.
  • Present three reference letters (one academic and two professional).
  • Provide evidence of paid and/or voluntary experience in human service organizations. Two or more years of experience would be considered an asset.
What’s included in the program curriculum?

Like the traditional Master of Social Work program, Laurier’s Master of Social Work - Advanced Standing program promotes equity, inclusivity, reflexivity, and social justice as the foundation of good social work. Designed specifically for the student who already stands upon that foundation through their Bachelor of Social Work degree, the Master of Social Work - Advanced Standing program focuses on helping students develop their reflexive practice skills by further integrating knowledge, theory, and practice.

Students complete just one Core I Course, Research I, which includes both instruction and an applied research project. Then, students move on to Advanced Core I and Core II. These courses include:

  • Research 2
  • Advanced Social Work Practice with Individuals
  • Reflexive Practices
  • Advanced Field Education

Students will take elective courses, which are determined annually. Examples include:

  • Mindfulness-Based Therapies
  • Social Work Practice with Survivors of Trauma
  • Family Violence
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Addictions
  • Program Development

Whether you’re a candidate for Laurier’s Master of Social Work program or Master of Social Work - Advanced Standing program, we’re ready to talk to you about the ways a master’s degree can open up new social work career possibilities for you.

Are you ready to advance your career in social work?

Contact An Enrolment Advisor Now!