If you’ve ever felt a pull toward a career that drives positive change for both individuals and society, a pivot toward social work may be worth considering. Social workers are trained professionals who assist people through challenges to help improve their health, wellbeing and overall lives. These challenges can be social, emotional, professional, relational, psychological or all the above. Here in Australia, the demand for qualified social workers has been on the rise for years, and is even more pronounced in the wake of the pandemic. There’s certainly no shortage of job opportunities.
Curious about how to become a social worker in Australia? There are many pathways to choose from. The right one for you will depend on your current qualification and experience levels, as well as what aspect of social work you feel most pulled toward.
In this article, we’ll outline exactly how to become a social worker in Australia, from gaining the right qualification through to completing practical experience and entering the professional landscape.
How to become a social worker
Social workers are needed across a wide range of settings, including:
- mental health clinics
- government agencies
- nursing homes and assisted living facilities
- correctional facilities
- drug and alcohol clinics
- private practices
- child and family services
There are several pathways to a profession in social work, and the biggest factors determining your specific route are what qualifications and experience you currently have. Generally, becoming a social worker in Australia involves a combination of formal education, practical experience and completing relevant registrations. We break these down further, below.
Complete a formal qualification in social work
Because social work is a specialised field dealing directly with the mental health of individuals, there are certain educational requirements to enter it. These include:
If you’re interested in becoming a social worker after high school and you’ve never completed a higher education degree, you may need to complete a Bachelor of Social Work to start your career. The length and specific content of the course will vary at different institutions, but an undergraduate degree in social work typically takes four years of full-time study. The curriculum combines academic coursework with practical field placements to ensure graduates are fully qualified and prepared for professional settings.
If you’re already a qualified or practising social worker but you want to specialise in a certain area, a graduate certificate might be the right choice for you. A graduate certificate is a postgraduate qualification that equips students with foundational knowledge or skills in a particular area of social work.
In Australia, these areas can include child protection, aged care, family violence, disability, and more – depending on which institution you study at. The qualification can take anywhere from one semester to one year of full-time study, but the length and curriculum can vary.
Like a graduate certificate, a master’s degree can be an optional postgraduate qualification for aspiring or current social workers. Unlike a graduate certificate, it covers a broad range of topics in the field of social work. A master’s degree is designed to equip graduates to practise as professional social workers with a combination of theoretical studies and practical experience.
A Master of Social Work (Qualifying) is perfect for aspiring social workers who have an undergraduate degree in a different field, or professionals who are looking to pivot toward a career in social work. A master’s program will often take between one to two years of full-time study, but the duration will depend on the specific program, the university providing it and whether students have completed undergraduate social work qualifications in the past.
Apply for registration
Certain social worker roles require graduates to obtain Accredited Mental Health Social Worker (AMHSW) status with the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). The AASW is the professional body for social workers in Australia. It sets the standards for practice and ethics, and also offers an annual membership for people in the social work industry. To become an AMHSW, you may be required to undertake further post-qualification experience and professional development.
However, accredited degrees can provide the registrations required to become a practising social worker. Graduates of University of Canberra’s online Master of Social Work (Qualifying) are automatically accredited social workers under the AASW, so you won’t have to undergo further study.
It’s important to note that only AASW accredited Bachelor of Social Work degrees or Master of Social Work (Qualifying) will provide graduates with this, so do your research before choosing which institution to complete your qualification at.
If you ask an experienced professional how to become a social worker in Australia, one of the first things they’ll advise is gaining experience in the field. Practical experience is an essential component to readying yourself for a career in social work. While a comprehensive understanding of the theoretical aspects is important, the ability to apply those learnings in a real-world setting to effectively help others is what social work is all about.
Many undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications will include pathways to practical experience as part of their curriculum. If there’s a particular area of social work you’re interested or want to specialise in, gaining practical experience is a great way to both confirm if it’s the direction you wish to take and – if so – bolster your chances of employment.
Whether you’re obtaining your qualification or have already completed it, there are many ways to gain and increase your experience in the field of social work. These include:
If you’re looking to pivot into social work from a different industry or specialise in a certain area of social work, volunteering can be a fantastic way to gain hands-on experience, bolster your CV and expand your network in the industry. The AASW offers a number of volunteer opportunities and if you’re not a member of any local community centres, charity groups and not-for-profit organisations, International Social Service (ISS) Australia and Mission Australia are great places to look at.
Internships are one of the most comprehensive ways to gain real-world social work experience and professional development. Opportunities are available across several social work settings, including schools, non-profit organisations, mental health clinics, government organisations and more – with some internships more competitive than others. Typically, they’ll be structured to last for a certain period – for example, two days a week for six months depending on which organisation you’re interning for. In many cases, internships can lead to permanent employment.
Part of what makes internships so valuable is the on-the-job mentorship students receive. In most cases, students paired with a licensed social worker or supervisor to provide personalised and comprehensive feedback.
As for pay? Under Australia’s Fair Work Act, an internship must be paid unless it is required or assessed as part of a course, or it is with a non-profit organisation.
Secure a job in the field
Once you’ve obtained the necessary qualifications and certifications to become a practising social worker, securing a job in the field is the fastest track to real expertise. Job boards like Seek, LinkedIn and Indeed often list opportunities, and specialised social work recruitment agencies can be a great go-to for entry level positions.
Examples of social worker roles include:
- substance abuse counsellor
- direct care worker
- family advocate
- school counsellor
- case worker
- child welfare specialist.
Completing field education placement units
Gaining practical experience is an essential component of many social work qualifications globally.
In Australia, accredited programs like University of Canberra’s Master of Social Work (Qualifying) require students to undertake professional in-person social work experiences in a range of settings that may include health, aged care, community services, child and family welfare, mental health, community work, research, policy and planning.
Through a proactive approach to learning, students will complete field education placements, including 28 hours of integrated seminars, which run over three study blocks. This means there’s less time spent in a classroom and more time spent in the real world – where invaluable learning takes place.
Field education units provide a wonderful opportunity for future social workers to try different specialisations they may be interested in and expand their professional networks.
Empower your passion and transform lives
University of Canberra’s online Master of Social Work (Qualifying) is a professionally and globally recognised degree that provides students with the specialised knowledge, skills and experience to meet the complex and evolving needs of people, communities and the environments in which they live.
Perfect for progressive students pivoting into a career that creates positive change, the course is fully accredited by the AASW to ensure graduates are employment ready. Your degree will be flexible and accelerated, meaning you can study anywhere, anytime, and earn your degree sooner.
Interested in empowering your passion to drive change and transform lives? Learn more about Master of Social Work (Qualifying) by visiting our website and downloading a brochure.
You can also get in touch with one of our Student Enrolment Advisers on 1300 471 770 to ask any questions.