Where Are All the Social Workers?



By S. Jolene Hui, MSW, LCSW, Membership Director

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while because every time I’ve gone to a multidisciplinary conference in the past few years (as a representative of NASW-CA), I have been approached by managers who ask, “How can I find social workers to hire?” Basically, I hear, “Where are all the social workers?”

It’s somewhat baffling to me since I come in contact and visit with so many social work students (and professionals) throughout the year—those who are very eager to work in a variety of settings and those who are actively looking for work. I would think that jobs would be filled before they are even posted.

Additionally, I hear from a lot of registered Associate Clinical Social Workers (ASWs) who either: 1) don’t have regular clinical supervision of their hours in the workplace, or; 2) don’t have any clinical supervision in their workplace. Because of this it can take an extended period of time for an ASW to earn their clinical hours of experience toward their LCSW and it can often be at a heavy cost, as they need to hire their own supervisor at an hourly rate.

When you look at the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) numbers as of July 1, 2016, there are only 24,197 licensed clinical social workers, while there are more than 40,000 marriage and family therapists. That is a substantial difference in the market.

So why are employers seeking out social workers? And why are they frustrated that they are unable to hire any?

Social workers have well-versed educations. The curriculum covers many different areas from a micro level (i.e. different therapy interventions and modalities) to a macro level (i.e. policy and theory). We work with vulnerable communities and have the skills to work with a broad clientele. We learn case management skills as well as therapy in our placements. Our education is so varied and so thorough that we are invaluable in social service agencies.

For social workers in the market—search for a job with an open mind. You may not find your dream job right away, but there are so many jobs out there and some that would provide really important learning experiences. And you may be surprised at what you actually enjoy. Also keep in mind that there is a lot of turnover in the field (due to a number of reasons) so don’t be afraid to leave a position if the time is right. Your first position does not have to be the position you retire from. Take advantage of opportunities around you.

Get your license! It will open doors for you. As I stated above, there is a shortage of LCSWs as supervisors in the field. ASWs need 1,700 of their required 3,200 hours to be supervised by social workers. Once you complete your requirements to be a supervisor, get to work! You can contract out to agencies and if you are in private practice you can charge for your supervision.

Your license is a post-graduate credential that indicates years of experience with clients. It can put you ahead in terms of different positions.

One thing I haven’t mentioned: pay. This could very well be a reason certain agencies cannot find social workers to employ—the pay. While we are all working on increasing pay for social workers, the reality is, some agencies simply don’t have the funding to pay us what we require.

Be proactive in your career search. Being a member of NASW will get you ahead of the curve. There is an abundance of networking opportunities for you to meet social workers from all sorts of settings in various capacities. NASW-CA and the national office offer online courses and career listings. Advocate for yourself. Seek out opportunities that will help you grow in your career and don’t be afraid to reach out to those who can help you accomplish these goals.

Jolene Hui, LCSW, is NASW-CA’s membership director and can be reached at jhui@naswca.org.