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4 Social Work Professional Development Tips

June 16, 2020

For nearly everyone, professional development can be beneficial to staying on top of their career, whether it involves learning about new research or mastering new innovative techniques and strategies.

However, social work professional development takes on critical importance. Social workers need to fully understand the latest research but they also need to be up to date on larger policy and regulation issues. Without that knowledge, they could be unintentionally misleading their clients or lacking the tools to fully meet their needs.

In addition, to remain a licensed social worker, nearly every state licensing board requires social work continuing education. Social worker trainings can take on many different forms. Some are more time-intensive, while others can be as simple as attending a lecture.

If you’re having trouble finding the right opportunities or if you just want to gain a better understanding of the types of continuing education available, read our tips below.

Associations Matter

There are a number of benefits to joining a professional association as a social worker. Not only will it connect you with others in your field, but it presents many opportunities to find new research and techniques through webinars, guides and classes.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the largest membership group, regularly puts out timely trainings and professional development, but some might prefer to join a more specific organization offering more focused opportunities. These associations include those working with certain communities, such as aging populations or families, as well as those impacted by certain illnesses, including cancer or eating disorders. Some associations are based on where a social worker may practice, whether in a hospice, certain city or state, or rural community.

Joining a professional association is the ideal place to start, even if you are not looking for social work continuing education just yet (be sure to note whether the organization, itself, requires you to complete professional development to remain a member). You might have an unexpected need for additional training or you come across a topic you never considered needing help with.

Benefits of a Conference

How often do you have the ability to just focus on your career? Being a better social worker requires taking the time to stay on top of new ideas in the field. A conference can be an important way for you to schedule a break in your busy life to focus on being the best social worker you can. Many of them are hosted by professional associations, so you might be well aware of opportunities from your own.

They’re a great opportunity to network as well. Engaging with peers and with other attendees outside your field can offer very new insights and perspectives on your work.

Ask Your Network

While networking is often described as a way to advance your career, it is also an important way for social workers to grow through less formal pathways. Learning from those in similar circumstances can introduce you to new tools and resources you might not be aware of. Your network might also be able to recommend workshops or classes available in your community for formal training.

As the internet becomes more robust, so do the opportunities for you to take advantage of. Local social work Facebook and LinkedIn pages can help you tap into a community engaged with sharing and offering advice on what has worked for them. Online forums and blogs can be a similarly useful tool, but don’t limit yourself to just your focus. There’s a great deal to be learned from those in other fields of social work.

Research on Your Own

Particularly for rural social works or those specializing in a small field, seeking out research on your own can be a simple solution. There are many journals and research databases that focus on specific issues and communities, and much like conferences, many are associated with certain professional organizations.

Before buying a subscription on your own though, be sure to check with your employer first. They may already have access or they might subscribe to a similar database. You should also ask if they are willing to cover the cost. This might require you to do a bit of research on your own and make the case for why this resource would be a valuable asset not just for you, but for your entire organization.

Importance of Licensure

Continuing education is essential for all social workers. Networking and informal conversations can provide you with nuanced and practical support as a professional. However, many states and jurisdictions require approved social work professional development to stay licensed. As you progress in your career, it’s essential to know what your licensing board requires. Some might ask you to reach a certain number of continuing education units or hours. Others ask that social workers take classes focused on a certain area, such as substance abuse or domestic violence. Each social worker is responsible for reaching out to their local board to make sure they know they’re meeting their continuing education requirements.1

At Yeshiva University, we understand navigating the licensing process can feel challenging. That’s why our Online Master of Social Work program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). That means our online curriculum meets the highest standards for social work education. Learn more about how we prepare students for what’s ahead.

1 Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from aswb.org/licensees/continuing-education