Pros and Cons of a Human Services Career
The human services field includes a variety of occupations, including social worker, social service assistant and social service manager. A comparison of human services occupations is shown below.
|Social Worker||Social Service Assistant||Social Service Manager|
|Career Overview||Social workers help people with personal or family issues, mental illness or physical challenges||Social service assistants help clients obtain needed services and assist social workers||Social service managers administer social service organizations and programs|
|Education Requirements||Bachelor's degree or Master's degree (for clinical social workers)||At least a high school diploma||Bachelor's degree|
|Program Length||Around 4 years full-time||Not applicable||Around 4 years full-time|
|Additional Training||Fieldwork experience while earning degree||On-the-job training||Fieldwork experience while earning degree|
|Certification and/or Licensing||Certification or license required in every state||None required||None required|
|Experience Required||Fieldwork experience required to earn degree||Entry-level||1-5 years of relevant work experience|
|Job Outlook for 2012-2022||Faster-than-average job growth (19%)*||Much-faster-than-average job growth (22%)*||Faster-than-average job growth (21%)*|
|Approximate Mean Salary (2014)||In the $46-60,000 range* (varies according to the position)||$32,000*||$68,000*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Social workers are employed in various settings, including hospitals, mental health centers, nursing homes, schools and local governments. There are several types of social workers, and their duties, salaries and clientele vary. Child and family social workers help families and children by determining what type of aid they need and helping them obtain assistance. For example, they may find a foster family willing to take in a child or help a low-income family obtain food stamps. The BLS reported that child and family social workers received mean salaries of around $46,000 as of May 2014.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers work with people who have mental illnesses or addiction problems. These social workers intervene during crises and can provide therapy and other services like guidance and case management. This type of social worker was earning a mean salary of approximately $46,000 as of May 2014, according to the BLS.
Healthcare social workers help clients with severe or terminal illnesses by evaluating their needs, teaching them how to deal with their conditions and referring them to other services, such as home healthcare. The BLS reported that healthcare social workers earned mean salaries of around $54,000 in May 2014. The BLS also reported that social workers who didn't fall into any of the above categories earned mean annual wages of around $58,000 during the same time frame.
The path to obtaining an entry-level social work position starts with earning a bachelor's degree. While social work is the most common major, you may qualify for some positions with a degree in psychology, sociology or a related field. A typical social work degree program offers courses in human behavior and the social environment, social work research, social work practice and welfare programs. You'll also be required to complete a practicum where you'll participate in the same type of fieldwork you can expect to perform as a social worker.
Every state requires either licensure or certification for social workers, so you should learn the requirements for the state in which you plan to work. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat clients with mental or emotional illnesses and must be licensed in every state; this type of licensure requires you to obtain a master's degree, acquire about two years of supervised clinical experience after graduating and pass an exam.
Employers were looking for the following in December 2012:
- A healthcare services company in San Antonio was looking for a social worker with a bachelor's degree in social work and at least 1 year of experience to help patients and their families overcome various types of challenges and receive effective medical care. Candidate was required to have a current license from the Texas Department of Human Services.
- A dialysis services provider in Arizona was seeking a licensed social worker with a master's degree and at least 1 year of experience to provide a variety of social services to patients. Medical or dialysis experience was a plus.
- An Ohio non-profit organization sought a social worker/counselor to provide crisis intervention, mental health assessments and counseling services to homeless young adults in a transitional housing program. A minimum of 3 years of experience working with young adults and current Ohio licensure in social work or professional counseling were required.
How to Stand Out
You can stand out by obtaining credentials from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). These voluntary credentials indicate that you have achieved a level of excellence and show clients and employers that you are dedicated to the profession. The NASW offers advanced practice specialty credentials in areas like education, addictions, healthcare and gerontology. You may also become a member of the NASW and obtain professional social work credentials. Most NASW credentials require a master's degree in social work, but a few only require a bachelor's degree in the discipline.
Social Service Assistant
Social service assistants work under the direction of social workers or psychologists to help people receive the aid they need. They may work with the elderly, immigrants, veterans or people who have addictions or disabilities by guiding them to the resources that will best suit their needs. In this occupation, you may find employment with nonprofit or for-profit social services organizations, hospitals, shelters, government agencies or group homes.
You can obtain entry-level employment as a social service assistant with a high school diploma; however, if you'd like to work in a position with greater responsibility, you should complete a postsecondary certificate program or an associate's program in human services or a related field. If you decide to pursue an associate's degree in human services, you can expect to study courses in psychology, crisis intervention, counseling and human services management. Many of these programs also include internships in the field. After you secure employment, you may receive on-the-job training that teaches you how to deal with different types of clients and situations.
A few employers posted the following job requirements in December 2012:
- A senior healthcare services company in Denver sought an assistant social worker with a bachelor's degree in a social service discipline and at least 3 years of experience in long-term nursing care. Duties included interviewing residents and their families, filling out forms, arranging transportation and referring patients to medical, financial assistance and social service agencies.
- A Seattle rehabilitation center was looking for a social service assistant with a high school education and experience or a degree in a relevant field to help patients and their families adapt to illness and treatment plans. The candidate had to satisfy Washington state requirements for a social service designee or possess current state social work credentials.
- A skilled nursing care facility in Florida was seeking a social service assistant with an associate's degree and at least 1 year of experience to assist in providing individualized services to residents, such as financial planning, identifying patient needs and discharge planning.
How to Stand Out
If you'd like to gain an edge on the competition, you can become proficient in a specific area of human services by obtaining a certificate in that specialized area. Some universities offer specialized certificate programs in the human services field. You may find programs for trauma response and crisis intervention, senior housing issues, developmental disabilities or advanced gerontology, to name a few.
Social Service Manager
Social service managers oversee agencies and programs that provide social services to people in need of assistance. They interview prospective employees, hire staff and supervise staff training and performance. They determine what type of programs are needed and then decide whether a program is effective by collecting and analyzing statistics, conducting interviews and reading reports. Other duties may include managing budgets, obtaining funds and networking with other organizations to avoid duplication of services. Most social service managers are employed by state and local governments, nursing homes, facilities that offer vocational rehabilitation and individual and family services.
A bachelor's degree in social work, public administration or a related subject is typically required for a social service management position. A bachelor's degree in public administration teaches you about the administrative function of public sector organizations. You may take classes that teach you about public policy and managing nonprofit organizations. Experience in the human services field, including proven supervisory ability is also required.
Here are a few of the requirements that some companies were seeking in December 2012:
- A non-profit human services center in Illinois was looking for a social service director to administer vocational, day and residential services for its developmental disabilities department. Requirements included 5 years of relevant management experience and a master's degree in social work or an associated discipline.
- A Wyoming senior healthcare services company sought a social service manager to supervise staff and act as a resident advocate. Duties included hiring and training staff, evaluating patients' needs and implementing social services to benefit patients.
- A county human services agency in Washington wanted to hire a social service administrative manager with a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field and at least 5 years of experience to manage the programs offered by the aging, disabilities and chemical dependency division.
How to Stand Out
According to the BLS, many employers prefer candidates with master's degrees. You can stand out by obtaining a master's degree in a field like human services management. Some colleges offer master's degrees in human services management or administration, while others offer master's programs in human services with a management concentration option. This type of program will teach you the skills needed for employment as an upper-level manager in the social services field; the curriculum typically includes courses in research, ethics and funding.