Trends in Social Work Workforce Explained

— Lyn Stoesen, News Staff


NASW recently presented an overview of social work workforce trends with a Lunchtime Series continuing education teleconference offered by NASW Center for Workforce Studies Director Tracy Whitaker.

During the teleconference, Whitaker presented general demographic trends in the United States, discussed the status of the social work profession and noted several expanding opportunities for social workers. Those opportunities include the practice areas of aging, criminal justice, military and veterans affairs, health disparities, disaster planning and navigating cyberspace.

"The data covered a range of areas that impact social work practice," Whitaker explained to the News. "Our profession is broad, and we need to explore all these areas to fully comprehend our workforce needs." The data in the teleconference were scheduled to be released in a new report from the Center as the News went to press.

Among the data addressed during the teleconference were:

  • The social work profession will grow at a much faster than average rate through 2016.
  • More than 50 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during a given year.
  • More than 2.4 million grandparents are primarily responsible for the care of their grandchildren.
  • Among older families, 7.8 million live in unaffordable housing or poor-quality dwellings.
  • Between 11 percent and 15 percent of U.S. AIDS cases occur in people over age 50.
  • Adults age 65 and older accounted for 16 percent of suicide deaths in 2004.
  • The number of people released from prison has increased 350 percent over the last 20 years.

"When we look at what we've talked about today in terms of trends, it seems we really have to get a handle on retaining our workforce, particularly if we're going to ask people to work in places that have traditionally shown to have higher rates of attrition," Whitaker said during the teleconference.

"Significant opportunities will be paired with significant challenges for our profession," Whitaker said. "The future of the profession may well hinge upon its ability to successfully manage diversity of every kind."

Following the teleconference presentation, Whitaker fielded questions from participants addressing topics including employee assistance programs, social workers in administrative positions and mind-body therapies.

A transcript and recording of the workforce teleconference and other Lunchtime Series programs are available online. Users can review the material and earn 1 continuing education credit by taking an online test.