Social work schools offering alternative job path programs

To boost the employment potential for newly graduated or currently enrolled MSW students, some schools of social work across the U.S. offer dual degrees and nontraditional career path programs that take advantage of the broad spectrum of skills social workers can offer.

“Because of the uncertain economy, shrinking job market, and desire to provide a greater array of MSW internship and employment options, the (University of Southern California) School of Social Work found the need to be creative in identifying these types of opportunities for students and alumni,” said Carrie Lew, USC administrator.

The USC School of Social Work's nontraditional social work job project gives students a chance to expand their career prospects by finding nontraditional social work internships, or NTSWs, Lew said.

“It was Dean Marilyn Flynn’s vision to move into the ‘nontraditional’ social work job market,” she said. “The project expands employment options for MSWs by exposing them to NTSW internships available in areas that are experiencing growth in today’s challenging economy ... ”

Some of these areas are fundraising/fund development, marketing, quality control and social entrepreneurship, she added.

It’s a common misconception that a social worker is limited to just one field of practice, said Florence Chung, a senior business partner for Target Corp.’s assets protection division and a mentor in the USC nontraditional social work project.

“Social workers are trained to think a certain way, and they’re qualified for many fields,” said Chung, who has an MSW. “We can do so many things to impact the community in many different ways, such as working in policy and getting involved with local community outreach opportunities.”

Norma Bravo, who found her internship at Pan American Bank through USC’s project, sees pursuing a nontraditional social work path as opening up new career opportunities. Social work students come from all walks of life, she said, and have the ability to combine their skills and transfer them into nontraditional jobs.

“The idea of a social worker in nontraditional placement is intriguing for many people,” Bravo said. “Management, consulting, financial and life coaching, business-social enterprise, education, human resources, law, marketing and fundraising are some of the nontraditional fields (where) social workers can find employment.”

Dual degrees

Dual degree programs offered at schools of social work are another way to open new career paths for MSW graduates.

“One of the dual degrees we offer at our school of social work is in urban planning, for example, in addition to our other programs,” said Mike Spencer, associate dean and professor of social work at the University of Michigan. “The (dual degrees) can double job prospects for an MSW graduate.”

“There are various reasons students seek a joint degree with their MSW education,” said Melissa Bottiglio, associate director of admissions and recruitment at the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). “Social work is already an interdisciplinary field with scholars having differing career goals or desires to create change in particular sectors of society.”

Bottiglio said bioethics is one dual degree social work program UPenn offers, which can extend opportunities in the health care sector for graduates.

“The MSW/MBE (Master of Social Work/Master of Bioethics) aims to prepare students to be leaders in bioethics-related, research-based program and policy venues in the social services, life sciences and medicine,” Bottiglio said. “The MBE program is designed to provide its graduates with the interdisciplinary training they will need in order to address the moral challenges in health care today and tomorrow.”

Perfecta Lancenski, a student enrolled in the MSW/Master of Public Administration program at UPenn, says obtaining a dual degree in social work sets her up to tackle a wide array of social issues she may come across in any position she gets.

“Having both degrees allows me to have a more holistic understanding of social problems as well as practical skills in how to address them,” Lancenski said. “And given how complex and seemingly intractable social problems can be, I’m glad I feel more prepared.”