8 types of social work careers

A social worker goes through important documents
A social worker goes through important documents

It’s no secret that helping others is a core component of personal fulfilment, but applying that sentiment in a professional setting can be challenging in many industries. Thankfully, social work is not one of them.

Social worker careers involve supporting individuals who may be struggling with professional, relational, social, familial or health challenges to help improve their lives. It’s a high-impact, highly skilled profession that requires practitioners to have completed formal studies, practical experience and in most cases, be certified by the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW).

These roles are also in high demand. National projections by workforce planning agency Jobs and Skills Australia (JSA) have shown the number of social worker positions in Australia is expected to grow ‘very strongly’ over the next few years, and is likely to increase by 23.2 per cent by 2026. This means approximately 9,300 more jobs.

Interestingly, international recruitment data has also indicated that up to 40 per cent of entrants to social work programs have come from a different career or industry in search of more fulfilling work.

If you’re interested in a job that can drive change and transform lives, social work may be right for you. And there are many trajectories to choose from - social workers can provide their services in schools, hospitals, government agencies, community centres, correctional facilities and more.

    8 social work careers to consider

    So what social work careers can you pursue in this field? There are many types of roles, including:

    • Social worker
    • Case manager
    • Family support worker
    • Community worker
    • Engagement officer
    • Policy adviser
    • Youth worker
    • Addiction counsellor

    Let's dive into these in more detail.

    Social worker

    A career as a social worker involves working with individuals, couples or families in crises – for example, domestic violence, addiction, child abuse, homelessness and/or financial literacy – to provide the support and resources they need. In addition to holding sessions in person and over the phone, the role may involve planning, coordinating and implementing treatment plans tailored to your clients’ needs.

    Social workers can provide their expertise to a range of sectors, including schools, healthcare, drug and alcohol services, private practice, correctional facilities and more. According to Seek, the average annual salary for social workers across Australia ranges from $85,000-$100,000.

    Case manager

    A case manager is a specialised social worker who oversees the ongoing care of patients who are chronically ill or in need of continued clinical care for mental health issues, substance abuse issues or other health challenges. The role can involve linking clinical patients with additional health, social or financial services they may require, improving the quality of care they’re receiving, advocating for patients to social, medical and financial services, creating patient discharge plans and more.

    According to Seek, the average annual salary for case manager jobs in Australia ranges from $75,000-$90,000.

    Family support worker

    A career as a family support worker will involve providing practical services and emotional support to children and families in need. Family support workers have expertise in assessing the needs of a family, child safety, resolving complex issues and promoting wellbeing. These professionals can work for a number of organisations including early childhood intervention, foster care and adoption, family service, community health and child protection.

    According to Seek, the average annual salary for family support worker jobs ranges from $70,000-$80,000.

    Community worker

    A community worker is responsible for facilitating community development initiatives and solutions to challenges relating to housing, health, employment and community welfare issues. The role can include liaising with welfare groups, government bodies and sometimes the private sector to create better outcomes and services for communities.

    Research shows most community workers are based in the healthcare and social assistance field, but this career path can also lead to industries like education, public administration and safety.

    Seek reports the annual salary in Australia ranges from $65,000-$80,000.

    Engagement officer

    Broadly speaking, an engagement officer is responsible for nurturing relationships between an organisation and its community or stakeholders and driving involvement in its services. A primary function of this career is to ensure the offering of an organisation is in line with the needs of the public. In practice, that can look like organising community events and incentivising attendance, developing and delivering effective community engagement initiatives, or collaborating and partnering with aligned businesses to expand your organisation’s reach and impact.

    Engagement officers can work in government organisations, mental health facilities, non-profits, general crisis and support centres, specialist accommodation services and more. Seek reports the annual salary in Australia ranges from $70,000-$90,000.

    Policy adviser

    Policy advisers are responsible for researching, writing and analysing policies that impact individuals, families and communities to ensure they are serving them effectively. A career in this field can involve providing advice on regulatory and policy issues – often in healthcare, welfare systems, public services and intervention.

    Policy advisers can help to shape a number of high-impact sectors including government, healthcare, research institutions, lobbying organisations, non-profits, private consulting and more.

    According to Seek, the average annual salary for a policy adviser in Australia ranges from $90,000-$110,000.

    Youth worker

    A career as a youth worker will involve working directly with children and young people who might be dealing with issues like family conflict, pregnancy, addiction, sexuality and gender identity, homelessness and more. The role may involve working one-on-one with youths as well as planning, organising and overseeing programs that will help improve their health, wellbeing and quality of life.

    Youth workers can work in schools, community centres, healthcare, addiction centres or dedicated youth centres.

    Seek reports the average annual salary in Australia ranges from $70,000-$80,000.

    Substance abuse counsellor

    Substance abuse counsellors specialise in helping individuals and/or groups struggling with substance abuse. This social worker works with affected people in a one-on-one or group setting to help release shame, identify causes of addictive behaviour, and provide guidance and support on strategies to assist their recovery. Substance abuse counsellors can refer patients to programs that help their recovery such as 12-step programs, and also provide guidance and support to their families.

    Substance abuse counsellors can work in youth centres, substance abuse centres, hospitals, rehabilitation centres and more.

    Based on findings from Indeed, the average base salary for a substance abuse counsellor in Australia is an estimated $104,000 per year.

    Is social work a good career?

    Social work can be an extremely rewarding career for passionate, relationship-driven people who are craving a profession that makes a positive impact on individuals and communities. With social worker careers spanning so many industries, there are trajectories to suit a variety of strengths and interests.

    Here are some of the reasons a career in social work can be a strong choice:

    Industry growth

    With a projected 23.2 per cent job growth in the social work sector by 2026, the opportunities for qualified social workers are far from limited. What does this mean for prospective social workers? Not only will it be easier to find employment, but organisations in some fields may also increase salaries in order to stay competitive amidst top-tier, highly qualified applicants.

    Diverse career options

    Social workers can add value across a wide range of impactful and ever-evolving industries, including but not limited to healthcare, community services, research and policy, family and welfare services, and aged care. This means social workers can specialise in a field they’re passionate about or seek out a role that plays to their natural strengths and interests, be it working directly with people, developing strategies and programs, or conducting research and campaigning for change.

    Enhanced employability

    Obtaining your qualification and practical experience from a reputable institution will make you even more employable in the social work industry.

    The University of Canberra's online Master of Social Work (Qualifying) is fully accredited and designed to meet industry standards and prepare students for the real world. The field education placement units within the program give students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a social work setting that primes them for future employment and expands their network.

    In addition, the University of Canberra is ranked 5th in Australia in the worldwide Times Higher Education Young Universities Rankings 2023. (THE YUR, 2023).

    Drive change and transform lives

    Few careers provide the same opportunity to leave a lasting, positive impact as social work. It’s also the perfect industry to transition into from another field, as life experience is highly valuable when it comes to helping others.

    University of Canberra’s online Master of Social Work (Qualifying) is a professionally and globally recognised degree governed by the AASW, designed for those wanting to move into social work practice for a truly satisfying career.

    This course is accessible, flexible and accelerated. You can study when and where you choose on any device, and units are delivered in accelerated mode to allow you to earn your degree and put your skills into practice sooner.

    As you study, you will be empowered with the specialised knowledge, skills and experience to meet the complex and evolving needs of people, communities and the environments in which they live.

    Interested in empowering your passion and embarking on a career with meaning? 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.

    Note: All figures are correct as of October 2023.