Two Social Workers—One New, One Veteran

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What is a Common Thread in Their Career Challenges?

Social workers know the level of education it takes—and how much that costs—to work in a profession of helping others. Social work pay can lag behind other professions, an inequity that groups such as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is fighting to end. This creates professional challenges for both new and veteran social workers. Through networking, advocacy and education, NASW provides support for individual social workers while working toward systemic changes for the workforce.

Jacqueline McLean, a licensed clinical social worker, followed her passion and started in the field after spending years in several business roles. She’s been in private practice in Massachusetts for over a decade.

McLean says dealing with the social work labor shortage is a current and ongoing challenge in her career.

“We have a brain drain in our industry and it's for monetary reasons,” she said. “The education in our field is top notch and our skills are very marketable in related fields as well as business, so really talented people leave for higher paying positions in other fields.”

Because low compensation causes many to leave the profession, McLean struggles to find providers to make all of the referrals her caseload requires.

Eliana Agudelo, a millennial in her third year studying for her MSW at Boston University and working as a family support specialist at a nonprofit, echoes the challenge of maintaining enough social workers. She says it’s challenging for members of her generation to enter a career that’s expensive to get into, with fewer working years left to cover the cost. The COVID-19 pandemic and current inflationary pressures only exacerbate the problem.

“I’m paying for my MSW out of pocket,” Agudelo said. “Obviously, if you’re pursuing a career in this industry, you’re passionate; you’re not doing it for the money, but for your desire for serving the greater good.”

The Value of Membership

McLean and Agudelo believe that participating in professional associations including NASW at the National and chapter levels is vital for social workers throughout the arc of their careers (and even after retirement).

McLean suggests three reasons this is the case. First is the power of bringing voices together to advocate on issues that are important to social workers.

“We need to have representation to help our clients and help ourselves,” she explained. “I go to my chapter to get support and add power to my voice.”

She says that NASW has been helpful in looking at the whole issue of the cost of social work education and spearheading the effort to bring it in front of the state legislative body.

The second reason is networking. It helps social workers with their case management by helping them find providers who can support their clients who often have a variety of other needs. Agudelo, who is a student ambassador for NASW, agrees that the networking aspect of social work is essential for serving their clients.

“Networking helps us connect the families we serve with the services they need,” she explained. “Our families are vulnerable, underserved and don’t know what’s available because agencies don’t communicate.”

In addition to individual support, McLean says that having a group of people she can turn to help solve problems and various workforce challenges the entire profession faces is the third reason an NASW membership is vital.

“We have to figure out how we reach social workers as they start their careers, how we attract more people to the profession to make up for the baby boomer retirements, and how we maintain our CEUs and credits for licensing during COVID,” listed McLean.

She shared that her chapter held book clubs and other virtual activities as a way to keep in contact with each other during the pandemic. They’re currently brainstorming ways to keep retirees engaged in the profession.

A first generation American, Agudelo is also hopeful that more social workers of color will see the value in connection through NASW as she has and share their experiences and perspectives with the community.

NASW membership is a critical resource for social workers as they navigate the ups and downs of their careers. Having strong connections with other social workers gives you someone to help solve a myriad of career challenges, both big and small.

Learn more about NASW member benefits.


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