Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What’s it like to be a….social worker?

My job title is: Outreach and Assessment Coordinator

My actual position: I’m in a social work agency, where I chair the department responsible for the intake of clients.

What does a normal day look like? Is it consistent throughout the year? If you’ve had this position for a while, how have things changed?
Most days look about the same, although there are always surprises. Our agency operates in people’s homes, so there’s a lot of driving, and then when I get back to the office, there’s a lot of paperwork. I also supervise three other people, so each day involves some time spent with them reviewing their work. The busiest time for me is the end of the month when I have to submit data about our monthly activities to the state. Our agency is funded by the state of New York, so I have to prove to them that we’re accomplishing enough to merit the money. This involves a lot of paperwork.

What other, if any, positions have you held prior to your current job? How did you get to where you are now?
I worked in a nonprofit agency, I worked in textbook publishing, and I spent time in graduate school. I came to this position sort of by accident, because I wanted a position that would expose me to social work. I also speak Spanish, which is useful in any position like this.

What kind of training/education did you have? What would you suggest? What qualifications/skills/attributes make someone successful in this position?
I have a Masters’ Degree, but it’s not in the field I work in now! The best training for me was linguistic - I couldn’t do the job without speaking a second language - and organizational. Having on-the-job training in time management, organization, and leadership skills will serve you well in any field.

What are the rewards in your position? Challenges? What makes a good day for you?
A good day is one during which I don’t worry about having enough funding to cover our budget. Social services are always cut from state budgets when the economy is bad, and that will affect any student who wants to work in the human services field. External factors like that affect my work a lot. The rewards come when I feel that I have contributed to an agency that is effecting positive changes in people’s lives.
What trends or changes do you foresee in the next 5-10 years?
Before I started working here, there was no voicemail system and my coworkers didn’t really use email. I was surprised by this but realized that small agencies are often the last to get hit with technology. That’s changing now, and within five years I wouldn’t be surprised (or upset) if all the paperwork we do is computerized.
On the downside, unless the economy picks up at lightning speed, agencies like this one are going to have a harder and harder time. We have a lower budget than we used to, and the people we work with - most of whom qualify as “the working poor” - are having more and more trouble paying their bills and finding less and less help from government financial assistance programs.

How could a person find out more about your field?

Take a class in social work! Volunteer at a local agency or soup kitchen. When looking for jobs, there are a number of online search engines that list social services jobs all over the country.

When you were growing up, did you have any interests that you have built into your work? 
I did start learning Spanish at a young age. I also grew up in a minister’s family, so there was a lot of attention paid to local services for people who were struggling and a lot of time spent trying to alleviate community poverty.

What obstacles have you overcome to get to where you are today?
Working with people who need help has emotional challenges. It’s a challenge to separate oneself from the lives of one’s clients and be able to go home and leave work at the office. I’ve gotten better at this, but it’s always difficult.

What was your first job like after college?

Not good. I made copies and filed papers all day long while I secretly applied for other jobs online.

Are there any web sites you would suggest for more information about your field?
Those search engines I talked about - socialservice.com, socialworkjobbank.com, and good old Craigslist. The best resource, especially if you want to work locally, would probably be your college social work department.

Posted by Bonnie Speyers on 11/19 at 04:13 PM
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