Job: Social Worker
Salary: Starts at about $30,000 a year and can increase to about $90,000 for more senior professionals in supervisory positions.
Education: A bachelor of social work degree from a Canadian university is the minimum requirement for most jobs in the profession. In Alberta, the minimum requirement is a diploma in social work. Some colleges across Canada also offer courses that prepare students wishing to apply for a bachelor of social work.
The role: Social workers provide their communities with "supportive services that help to support healthier families and communities," said Fred Phelps, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Association of Social Workers.
Social workers may oversee placement of children into protective care, investigate cases of suspected child abuse or work as part of a team to rehabilitate people convicted of criminal offences. They might offer counselling to people in distress or social support to seniors.
Social workers are employed in hospitals, school boards, social service agencies, welfare organizations and correctional facilities. Some also work in private practice.
By the numbers: There are more than 55,000 social workers in Canada, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. About 85 per cent of social workers are women.
Job prospects: Demand for social workers is on the rise across the country, according to CanadaVisa.com, a website developed by a Canadian immigration lawyer. It cites an aging population that will create new openings for social work positions. While competition for jobs tends to be tougher in larger cities, Mr. Phelps says there are more opportunities in smaller communities and rural settings.
Challenges: Social workers are exposed to their clients' difficult personal situations, but that's not the hardest part of the job, Mr. Phelps says. The challenge lies in not taking the job home with them to the point where it has an impact on their own lives. Social workers also need to ensure they don't impose their own views and values on the people with whom they work.
Why they do it: "It's a way of giving back to the community," Mr. Phelps says. At the same time, he says social workers are constantly learning from the interactions with their clients. "It's more of a reciprocal relationship." Mr. Phelps says the goal for most social workers is to work themselves out of a job. While that might be the case in individual circumstances, it's unlikely the profession will ever become extinct.
Misconceptions: It's not just about child protective services, as is often highlighted on TV and in the movies. Mr. Phelps says the majority of social work takes place in health care and community settings. Those who do work in child protective services are working to keep children in their homes, not pull them out. That's often the last resort, he says.
Give us the scoop: Are you a social worker in Canada? Write a note in the comments area of this story or e-mail your comment to firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what you would tell others who are interested in the profession.
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