Hard Skills that are Vital in Social Work

When listing the skills one needs to have a successful career as a social worker, soft skills like communication, empathy, interpersonal skills, organization, problem-solving, and time-management are usually at the top of the list. But, these are just a few of the skills a professional typically needs in order to be successful at their job. The foundation for a successful social work career also relies heavily on hard skills.

In order to clarify the difference between these two, equally important, skill sets, let’s define them:

  • Soft Skills – personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively with other people. Also known as people skills or social skills, these are mostly learnt naturally as you engage in activities where you work with others
  • Hard Skills – job-specific skills needed to perform a particular job. They’re acquired through formal education and training

While soft skills can help make you more personable and effective as an employee, hard skills are what make you qualified to do the job you were hired to do.

Social workers typically need a strong set of soft skills to work successfully with clients. Since social workers deal with challenging scenarios, being comforting and relatable are integral to helping your clients emotionally. However, it’s the experience and knowledge you receive through your educational choices, certification, and on-the-job training (the hard skills) that qualify you to become a social worker in the first place.

Why social work is an attractive profession

Social work allows you to make a difference in the world by helping others overcome challenging times in their lives. Your support and your actions, if properly informed, can help change behaviors or resolve those emotional problems in an individual that make it challenging for them to connect to their environment.

Social workers are everywhere, in hospitals, health clinics, schools, social service organizations, and private practices. This variety of opportunity is further increased by the ability to specialize.

Take clinical social work as an example. Selecting this area of social work could place you in a hospital, health clinic, or even a nursing home. You could work with geriatric patients, focus on Hospice and palliative care, or even help connect families who have received a serious diagnosis with resources in their community. Just one track in social work has myriad possibilities. This diversity creates more opportunities as well as a more inclusive profession.

With so many options within the field, it’s no surprise social work as a profession is flourishing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the social work sector is expected to grow by 12 percent by 2024, which is above the overall average. This industry-wide expansion is primarily driven by increased demand, specifically, in healthcare and social services.

The attractiveness of the field, the increased possibility of finding a job without too much difficulty if you have the right background and experience, makes social work an exciting possibility for those still deciding on their career paths or for those looking to make a career change.

Education, certification, and training

Developing the hard skills you need to become a social worker is likely to happen during your education. While a Bachelor of Social Work prepares you to enter the field as a caseworker or assistant, obtaining a Master of Social Work can enable you to bypass entry level positions and move directly into more advanced roles. According to the BLS, “Master’s degree programs in social work prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment and management skills.”

But, the degree is just one piece of the hard skill puzzle that prepares you for a career in social work. Certification can be equally important because it shows you’ve learned not only the broad strokes of social work, but are also competent in a specialty. This additional practice and skill development may make you more qualified to work in the area you’ve gotten certified for.

The online Master of Social Work program at Rutgers is a flexible and affordable program which educates you in social work expertise while providing you with an additional opportunity to participate in certificate programs. Taking advantage of certification opportunities while getting an education in social work enhances your professional eligibility in the specific concentration you’re looking to work in as well as improves your candidacy when ready to take on a higher-level role. The combination of a Master of Social Work and one or more certificates solidly prepares you for whichever track in social work you’re looking to pursue.

Another important piece in developing your skills in a given profession is practice. Ensuring you can apply the skills you’ve learned in a real-world setting gives you the confidence you need when starting work as a social worker.

Rutgers offers courses comprised of specific learning experiences in specialized settings, such as the Field Education Practicum, to give you professional practice and train you to use the skills you’re learning as you earn your degree. You’re also able to complete your internship requirement anywhere in the U.S. with the online degree program, so you’ll be gaining experience in the job market you’ll most likely go into — or are already in — upon graduation.

The specific hard skills for a social worker

Skills that MSW students develop while completing their degree include:

  • Research - gathering and interpreting social, personal, environmental, and health information when appropriate to your area of expertise
  • Assessment – being knowledgeable in treatment options in order to set achievable treatment goals for clients
  • Intervention – recognizing and treating problems within the scope of your practice
  • Evaluation – reviewing the effectiveness of established treatment plans and making appropriate adjustments when/where necessary

Additionally, there are certain areas you need to have an understanding in, such as policy, psychopathology, and human behavior and the social environment. While being familiar with these topics doesn’t technically count as a hard skill, they’re a part of the education you receive that can make you better on the job.

  • Policy – being aware not only of policies pertaining to your area of practice, but also in the environment where you work (i.e. a school or hospital)
  • Psychopathology – this is the scientific study of mental or behavioral disorders, an area you’ll most likely be involved in at some point as a social worker
  • Human behavior and the social environment – this area of study is at the heart of social work since the profession itself is all about helping others overcome problems relating to their environment

Each of these hard skills is important in properly supporting and possibly treating the issues your clients face. Learning how to relate to your clients from a technical standpoint, understanding their concerns, and knowing how to provide help, can all lead to success as a social worker. Grasping these fundamental skills is a key component of the Master of Social Work at Rutgers. Completing this degree program will assist your eligibility for licensure due to its Council on Social Work Education accreditation, and graduates must check with their state licensing boards for additional licensure requirements beyond an accredited degree.

With a Master of Social Work on your resume, you’re already showing potential employers you’ve been working toward developing the full set of skills necessary to being an efficient, caring, and supportive social worker. Focusing your study in a specific track or concentration demonstrates your passion for a certain sect in the profession, which can improve your appeal during an interview as well. Even though social work is often identified by the soft skills one needs to relate to people, it’s your educational background and experience that really defines your potential to thrive in the social work profession.









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