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Social work

If you enjoy helping others to deal with personal and social problems then social work may be a good career choice for you. Courses in social work teach you to understand and analyse the circumstances of people facing a variety of problems and challenges, and to develop strategies that will help to improve these circumstances or reduce their impact. Browse Social work courses by state
Sometimes the problem is short term: supporting a family where a parent has died or is seriously ill, or settling in newly arrived migrant families. But often the focus is on people who are in for a long struggle: the poor, Indigenous communities, the aged, the chronically ill, families who are ‘dysfunctional’ and many others. Other roles in social work are very proactive and involve projects like helping to establish leisure, recreation or social services in new suburbs or building the infrastructure for people to gather and develop a sense of community.The diverse areas of specialisation that social workers can choose from may include family, youth and child welfare services; medical and health services; psychiatric and general mental health services; disability services; juvenile and family law courts; aged care; income support; and mediation.For more information about careers in social work, visit the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) website.If you are interested in this field, you should also look into courses in education and training, health services and support, humanities and social sciences, law, nursing, paralegal studies and psychology.
VET study in social work
Courses in the VET sector do not provide professional qualifications in social work. See the profiles for humanities and social sciences and health services and support for details of studies related courses in social welfare, disability studies, human services and more.
Undergraduate study in social work
Courses and specialisations
Social work degrees are not difficult to get into at many institutions, but some may have stricter criteria for entry than others. Courses are offered at numerous universities and campuses in all states and territories, and typically involve four years of full-time study. Note that there are relevant occupations at paraprofessional level, which require relevant diploma courses available mostly through TAFEs, and at the professional level, which require a university degree. Courses in this field are of two types — an undergraduate degree directly from school (which may take four years, or less under a trimester system) or a two-year course taken after the completion of two years of related tertiary study (with certain prerequisites). Some providers also offer postgraduate programs. In recent years there has been a move to expand the skills of social work graduates by offering the courses combined with related fields such as psychology, social science, health science and law.AASW has expressed concern over the lack of regulation of social work in Australia, and is calling for the inclusion of social work in the National Regulation and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS).A new degree structure, which has already been established at selected institutions, has the potential to become more common in social work. The structure follows a US-style model where undergraduates enter a general pre-professional degree (perhaps in arts or social science) before progressing to a postgraduate qualification in social work.A benefit for students is AASW’s Australian Social Work Education and Accreditation Standards (ASWEAS), which set out the principles, standards and graduate attributes for social work education in Australia. These standards are used as criteria for the accreditation of professional social work courses.
Where to study
Social work degrees are offered at campuses around Australia. These courses are usually only available at universities, rather than private providers or TAFE institutes. Your course should involve field placements, so you should ensure that the institution you choose can cater to this. See Degree costs and loans for more information about paying for your degree.To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.
Career opportunities
According to the 2014 Course Experience Questionnaire survey, graduates are overall very satisfied with their experience, the standard of teaching and the skills they gained. Starting salaries were above average in 2014, at $55,225. While this is not a bad start, like others employed in the public and community sectors, social work graduates may find that their salary growth is low. The unemployment rate has improved in recent years, with 31 per cent of graduates still looking for work four months after graduation.See the Career Search for more information about your career options.
Postgraduate study in social work
Courses and specialisations
This field has a relatively small number of programs, providers and students. Apart from the many programs designed for those already in the field (or a related area), there are selected graduate entry bachelor degrees offering graduates of other disciplines the chance to qualify.If you are intending to begin a career in social work, look for a course approved by the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) to ensure your qualification will be recognised.
Where to study
If you are already qualified and intend to upgrade your skills through a coursework program, you should note that there are not a huge number of institutions offering programs in the field, although some are available by distance education. This may mean shopping around and possibly relocating in order to pursue your course. Although coursework programs tend to dominate this field, research degrees are also available. If you are among those contemplating a research degree, you should shop around for a school or department and supervisor with a track record of publications in your area of interest. This is especially important if you are considering a highly specialised research project — some of which may be more suited to particular institutions. Depending on how closely related your research area is to social work practice, it might also be wise to get an idea of the links between the school and the profession.To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.
Career opportunities
Social work boasts excellent graduate satisfaction ratings at postgraduate level. In the recent Course Experience Questionnaire survey, graduates gave four-star ratings to teaching quality, overall satisfaction and the skills they gained. Job prospects are average, with 77 per cent of graduates finding full-time work within four months of course completion. The downside is that salaries are below average compared with other fields, currently sitting at $66,177 per year. See the Career Search for more information about your career options.



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