For older Americans looking to embark on a new career, social work is a popular choice. It's a promising one as well: Jobs in the field are expected to increase through at least 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.
Social work is not for everyone. It involves dealing with harsh realities, such as child abuse, illness and drug addiction. What's more, it's emotionally demanding — and unlikely to make you rich. Still, social work provides the tremendous satisfaction of helping others, and many social workers say that's more than enough reward.
If you're interested in the field, here are three options suited to a variety of backgrounds and education levels:
Professional Social Worker
Social workers provide a wide range of services: Some place children in foster homes or arrange adoptions. Others work as counselors, providing support for victims of domestic abuse or individuals coping with illness. (Elder care is the branch of social work that will be most in demand over the next decade.) A Masters degree in Social Work (MSW) is preferred for all of these positions, but in some cases a certification course combined with supervised field experience is considered equivalent. Requirements vary greatly depending upon the position, so contact the National Association of Social Workers for more specific information.
Social and Human Services Assistant
The job can include anything from doing case management for a social services agency to working as an assistant in a halfway house. Typically, assistants work under the direction of social workers and provide general assistance. The demand for these workers is also expected to grow faster than average over at least the next five years, but unlike social workers or counselors, assistants do not need to complete lengthy educational requirements. The educational minimum is a high school diploma, but relevant work experience or additional education is preferred.
Interested in social work, but not sure if you're cut out for its demands 40 hours a week? Try volunteering. In nearly every case, there are no educational requirements for volunteers — but there's certainly a demand for them in every single branch of the profession. If you're looking for a new career, a volunteer job as a social worker's aide will expose you to the daily realities of the job and allow you to gauge your interest in the field. But if you're just looking to give back, volunteering is a great way to start helping others without delay.