How a Master of Social Work Can Provide a Broad Array of Human Services Career Options

msw in human services careersThe human services field combines elements of many different disciplines to address individual and societal needs. The field offers a broad range of human services career options, from direct social work practice in governmental, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, to leadership roles within these organizations.

Social workers must have a unique blend of knowledge about and skills in working with individuals, groups, families and communities to be successful. They must simultaneously have a strong understanding of psychology, human behavior, policies and societal systems, as well as how individuals and groups interact with these systems.

In this article, we’ll explore how earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) can help advance your human services career. To get started, here are a few key questions to think about as you’re reading and planning your future:

  • Are you interested in pursuing clinical and administrative/leadership roles that are likely to require licensure?
  • Do you want to specialize in a specific area of human services or pursue a generalist career path?
  • Are you more interested in direct client practice roles or finding opportunities in other areas, such as policy advocacy?

How an MSW Can Benefit Your Career in the Human Services

One of the major benefits of earning an MSW for your human services career is that social work degrees offer a versatile skill set for navigating complex challenges and empowering both individuals and communities.

For human services careers that require licensure, such as clinical social work, an MSW isn’t just beneficial—it’s necessary. Job titles such as Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) come with stringent state requirements. New York, for example, requires a master’s degree in social work and 12 hours of clinical coursework from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). You will also need to pass the clinical license exam to become a practicing LCSW.

While state education and fieldwork requirements for licensing vary significantly, earning an MSW will help make you more attractive to employers, even if you’re not pursuing licensure. Data from the labor insight platform Burning Glass shows, of all job postings looking for social workers in 2020, 65% listed a master’s degree as either a preference or requirement. Completing an MSW can also signal to potential clients that you have attained an appropriate level of competency and are dedicated to keeping your knowledge current.

Studying social work gives you a unique lens — the person-in-environment perspective — to deal with one of the major challenges facing modern organizations: creating diverse and inclusive work environments. There is an increasing amount of research showing organizations that successfully support diversity, equity and inclusion tend to outperform their competitors.

However, the corporate world continues to struggle to achieve its diversity goals. In fact, in a 2020 survey, more than 50% of employees said their employer failed in creating a diverse environment. Social workers are accustomed to challenging the status quo and connecting people with resources, making their skills increasingly valuable as organizations start to turn their attention toward corporate culture and social responsibility.

Master’s in Human Services vs. Master’s in Social Work

While some institutions offer master’s degrees in human services, this is not an accredited credential. PayScale’s salary data shows that employers favor employees with MSW degrees; those who reported earning an MSW outnumber those with a master’s in human services by 8 to 1. We also see the same trend when looking at career and job posting data. According to Burning Glass, more than 70,000 jobs have listed an MSW degree as an acceptable requirement in 2021, while just 4,000 list a general human services master’s.

Related Content: Career Options With a Master of Social Work Degree

Human Services Skills for a Successful Career

The skills in highest demand within human services can vary significantly by sector. However, this field is all about working within systems and connecting people to resources. So, an understanding of different systems, persuasion, communication and empathy are essential across the board.

Human Services Skills for Healthcare

Human services professionals in medical settings offer a wide range of patient support, from counseling patients on post-treatment care options, to actively connecting them with rehabilitative services, community-based care options, and other resources. Because these professionals must often act as both advocates and mental health counselors, many of the key human services skills that Burning Glass identifies align with the skills of an LCSW:

  • Mental health
  • Case management
  • Behavioral health
  • Treatment planning
  • Crisis intervention
  • Discharge planning

Medical social workers often start off in direct practice, but if you are more interested in leadership, you can pursue opportunities as a clinical supervisor managing other social workers and human services personnel within a larger practice. For more information about licensing requirements and opportunities in this sector, please read our article about social workers in healthcare.

Human Services Skills for Organizations

Within nonprofit and business settings, human services professionals like HR managers use their core skills to help train employees or volunteers, develop their organization’s culture and promote diversity and inclusion initiatives. While some of the baseline skills overlap with core competencies in healthcare settings, work in organizations is more heavily geared toward process and project management:

  • Employee training
  • Employee relations
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Basic customer service
  • Project management

PayScale’s data also shows that many MSW graduates pursue opportunities in management and leadership, in both profit and nonprofit organizations. Social workers are also engaged in employee assistance programs that target the mental and emotional well-being of employees.

Looking at business through the lens of social work also carries advantages for leaders, giving them the ability to become advocates for equity, inclusive hiring practices and helping their organizations operate more ethically.

Is an MSW Right for You?

Social work is a profession that provides a set of frameworks and tools that can help you to support the empowerment of people and communities. In addition to direct client work, an MSW can help you find opportunities in countless work environments.

However, you should take some time and think about how you want to approach your career. An MSW is a great option if you want to be someone who integrates social justice into their work and is passionate about creating equitable, safe environments throughout the world around you.

About Adelphi’s Online MSW

The highly respected School of Social Work at Adelphi has a long history of producing leaders in social work and helping to shape social policies. Since 1951, we have continually been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, and Adelphi’s Social Work graduate program is now ranked in the top 5% of the country, according to US News & World Report. Additionally, our faculty are expert practitioners and researchers, having published across the full range of topics within the field—including disparities in healthcare, child advocacy, the role of social workers in shaping policies and more.

Our Online Master of Social Work program brings the combined decades of expertise and legacy of Adelphi’s leading social work school to a flexible curriculum designed for working professionals. Because building relationships is essential to the social work field, we include two annual experiences, which can be completed online or on-campus.

Along with the standard track, we also have an Advanced Standing option specifically designed for students who graduated from an accredited BSW program in the last five years. In this alternative, professionals earn an MSW part-time in just 15 months.

Our Human Service Professionals track in the MSW program offers a pathway to professionals who are concurrently employed in human services and are eligible to complete an employment-based field placement. Students in this track can complete their MSW degree in three years.

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