Social work leaders and educators and human services agencies in Illinois are on a mission to better prepare the state’s social work students for a challenging job market.
The NASW Illinois Chapter and the Illinois Association of Deans and Directors hosted a Social Work Jobs Summit in early 2012, and participants are busy collecting research this winter that will aid the summit’s action plan to promote workforce success.
Barry Ackerson, associate dean and MSW program director at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, serves on the advisory committee of the summit.
From his own findings at the university, Ackerson said there has been a downtick in hiring graduates. In the past, 90 percent to 95 percent of social work students received jobs fairly quickly after graduation or had jobs upon receiving their diplomas.
“But now that number is getting lower,” he said, with decreases in state funding for social services being a top factor.
Besides examining funding changes for social services, members of the summit are seeking solutions, said Ackerson, who serves as treasurer of the NASW Illinois Chapter board of directors.
Participants are seeking answers to the question: If there are changes to the way social services are being funded, what can social work educators and leaders do to help students succeed in this evolving market?
“Our job is not to just teach, but to prepare students,” Ackerson said.
The jobs summit’s action plan was recently approved and Ackerson is leading the effort to collect data of recent state graduates. He anticipates having preliminary findings later this year that measures the types of jobs social work students received within six months of graduation.
Also serving on the summit advisory committee is Mackenzi Huyser, dean for Faculty Development and Academic Programs at the Department of Social Work at Trinity Christian College.
She said being part of the summit is a way to ensure that social work graduates have opportunities to address societal injustices that social work clients often face.
“Social workers have a unique perspective that we offer to our work with clients and communities,” she said. “At times, however, we fail to broadly share the benefits of this perspective and the significant work we do. This has resulted in some human service organizations turning to other disciplines to fill open positions.”
To counter this trend, Huyser said the profession needs to better articulate its positive influence.
“Social work educators have the opportunity to take an active role in measuring the impact of our work and communicating this impact to society,” she said.
In addition to data collection on recent graduates, the group’s strategic goals include developing an online training module to be used by all schools of social work, an incentive for agencies to receive social work student placements and crafting a business partnership between schools and agencies.
“I think each recommendation could have a significant impact on the jobs outlook for our graduates and how our state serves clients,” Huyser noted. “From my perspective as a program director, I am very interested in how each school will work to collaborate to gather data from our graduates. This data has the potential to strengthen the message we as social work educators communicate about the impact of our profession.”
NASW Illinois Chapter Executive Director Joel Rubin said it is important to include input from the state’s key players for the job summit.
“We have to look at all parts of the practice world,” he said. “We felt this was an important time for schools and employers to come together to look at this issue. It’s not business as usual anymore.”
The chapter also is collecting information. In December, it sent out an online survey to more than 600 employers in the state.