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20/12/2022  •  Blog

Social workers…let’s talk about career progression

Social work is a dynamic, challenging and exciting profession with plenty of room for career progression. There are many opportunities to work with a huge range of people and organisations. It’s also a very rewarding career from both an emotional and financial point of view. You’ll be able to make a real difference in peoples’ lives as well as benefit from personal achievement, a sense of pride and lasting success. 

Just like in any profession, it’s important that you look at how your interests align with where you think your career might go in future years. This is why we’ve put together this guide on social work career paths and progression opportunities – so that whether you’re considering becoming a social worker, are newly qualified, or are a few years into practice, we can give you some ideas on what could happen next, and support your careers goals every step of the way.  

Where to begin…? 

Firstly, it’s important to take a look at the opportunities included within the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) from the British Association of Social Workers (BASW). This document gives a clear breakdown of the professional development for social workers in England. The PCF works in partnership with the Knowledge and Skills Statements (KSS) to outline exactly what social workers should know and be capable of in each different setting, across varying levels of seniority. 

We recommend that you read this guidance and familiarise yourself with the two KSS; one is in relation to adults’ social work whereas the other refers to children and families’ practice.   

What career paths are open to social workers?

As soon as you have finished your social work degree, you can dive into your social work career right away. First and foremost, it’s very important to gain that post-qualified experience. Most of our roles at Liquid are suitable for those who have at least one year’s experience in the field, so be sure to gather as much time out in practice as possible before applying for the next step in your career.  

An overview of social work career paths within the UK

The social work field is extremely diverse, with lots of different types of social work career paths to go down. An overview of a general social work career path might look like: 

Newly Qualified Social Worker > Social Worker > Senior Social Worker > Senior Practitioner > Assistant Team Manager > Team Manager > Service Manager > Head of Service 

Or if the academia route attracts you, your career progression could be similar to: 

Newly Qualified Social Worker > Social Worker > Senior Social Worker > Senior Practitioner > Principal Social Worker > Academia  

Now we’ve covered off the basic and most common general social work career paths here in the UK, we have put together just a few of the different options you may consider, depending on your specialism:  

Newly qualified social worker (NQSW) > Referral and Assessment > Senior Social worker > Team Leader > Head of Safeguarding Service 

NQSW > Senior Social Worker > Adoption Team > Adoption Team manager > Adoption Service Manager > Independent Sector 

NQSW > Social Worker > Looked After Children > Family Court Adviser > CAFCASS > Independent Children’s Guardian 

NQSW > Mental Health > Learning Disabilities > Substance Misuse Social Worker > Hospital Social Worker > Older People  

Further study may also be something you consider. For example, you could study a postgraduate training programme after two years of practice and specialise in specific fields such as an Approved Mental Health Professional or a Best Interests Assessor. 

Browse our social work job vacancies

As the leading social work recruitment agency in the UK, Liquid has hundreds of jobs in social work available. Browse our vacancies and apply today.

How do you progress in your social work career?

Because there are so many opportunities you can pursue in your field there’s no simple answer to this question. There are multiple social work career paths within a wide range of specialisms. However, we have gathered some of our best advice and tips to try and help you decide which route to go down when it comes to taking that next step in your social work career. 

Gain further qualifications

One of the best ways to progress is through studying for and gaining qualifications. It’s really important to keep learning if you want to progress; career development for social workers is not just about gaining promotions but also about continuous professional development.  

The HCPC offers a range of qualifications that can be obtained at different levels, which will help you progress in your career. It’s worth checking out their website as they have produced a list of approved training providers who offer suitable courses which meet their standards. Also, dependent on your role and the career path you are aiming to go down, this training could be offered by your employer or it could be an option to investigate courses available at universities and private training organisations. 

Identify promotion opportunities

Depending on the specific branch of social work that you enter, you may find that there is a well-defined career path in terms of promotion opportunities. For example, if you enter child protection as your area of expertise, then the chances are that many local authorities will have a clear system for promoting staff within their own organisations. This could involve undertaking specialist training and gaining experience within your local authority before being considered for promotion. 

Vertical vs horizontal career progression for social workers

It’s also important to remember that social workers can progress both vertically and horizontally. Vertical progression means moving up the career ladder to higher-level positions whilst horizontal progression means that you may take on different roles or responsibilities within your current role. 

So, when you consider your social work career path and how to develop this, it’s important to consider your ‘why’.  

Vertical career progression

As you progress through the ranks, it is very likely you will have less of a frontline role and move more into team or people management. If this appeals to you, then this could be possible in around three to five years after qualification. Your options would likely be to become a senior practitioner or team manager, resulting in a less ‘hands on’ role in terms of contact with service-users, and instead an increased responsibility for managing other social workers, as well as involvement in financial and political issues.  

Horizontal career progression

Social work offers job roles in many different areas: community services; hospital-based practice; mental health; education; family services; research; administration and management. Each of these areas offer different ways for you to build your skills, knowledge, and experience over time so that you can become more specialised in your field – leading ultimately to promotion or even starting your own business if this interests you! 

Also, moving from one specialism to another will allow you to gather a wide breadth of experience, such as moving from Looked After Children to Child Protection, adding diversity to your CV. It is possible to specialise in any number of different areas, from working with adults suffering from mental health problems to supporting children who have been neglected.  There are so many opportunities for you to find an area of expertise that suits your own personal interests in social work and supports your ongoing  career goals. 

What are the highest paying careers in social work?

The average social worker salary is around £30,000 per year. However, it is difficult to get an exact average. This is mainly because most social workers are employed by local authorities, or you may decide to have your whole social work career through a recruitment agency, just like Liquid Personnel, where hourly rates tend to be more favourable.  

It’s also important to consider that hourly rates and salaries will vary by region and are typically higher in London. Many social workers also work in the private sector or in charitable organisations, where salaries can wildly differ.  

However, with that said, Prospects has outlined the average yearly salaries you could expect during a typical social work career:  

  • Salaries for a newly qualified social worker within a local authority are approximately £24,000 – £30,000 per annum. 
  • If your first role is in the NHS, you’d usually begin on band 6, which would mean a salary of £32,306 to £39,027. 
  • With further experience and responsibilities, you can expect up to around £40,000 at local authorities and within the NHS, you’d move on to senior roles at band 7, which would see you earn between £40,057 to £45,839. 
  • Senior posts within local authorities such as team manager, commissioning manager or head of service would see you earning over £40,000. 

Some social workers decide to become practice educators, which means they mentor, supervise and educate future social workers, whilst others move into academia to become educators, lecturers and researchers. 

Salaries in this field vary massively, and depend on your area of ​​expertise, qualifications and experience. 

Develop your career with Liquid Personnel

Are you a newly qualified social worker and are now interested in starting your social work career? Or perhaps you want to explore the next steps on your career path?  Here at Liquid Personnel, our expert teams are ready and waiting to help you secure that next role, and further your career. 

As the leading social work recruitment agency in the UK, we work with local authorities, NHS Trusts, fostering agencies, charities and more to offer you the most exciting and varied range of temporary and permanent social work roles. With jobs available for qualified social workers and senior social workers through to team managers, service managers and beyond, we recruit for all levels of social services staff. 

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