Job descriptions and industry overviews

Social worker

24 Feb 2023, 10:11

Provides appropriate advice, support and resources to individuals who are experiencing personal difficulties to help them overcome their problems.

Social worker with client

Job description

Social workers work in partnership with individuals, families and groups experiencing marginalisation, disadvantage, social, and or emotional difficulties. People who may use a social work service include ethnic groups, young and adult offenders, children, families, travellers, older people, people with mental and physical illness and disability, homeless people, unemployed people, and people with drug and alcohol problems. The aim of social work is to facilitate and enable clients identify options and make decisions for themselves so that they may develop strategies to solve problems and to effect improvement in the quality of their own lives.

Apart from community care social workers, other social workers with more strictly defined areas of responsibility include: medical social workers, psychiatric social workers, housing welfare officers, probation and welfare officer, social workers in industry or welfare workers.

Work activities

  • Counselling individuals, families or groups
  • Helping people deal with practical issues, eg investigating entitlements to services and providing information on social support services
  • Advocacy on the clients behalf
  • Participating in policy formulation
  • Organising, supporting and working with community groups
  • Attending case conferences and possibly court hearings
  • Keeping accurate records.

Work conditions

Travel: can be a major feature of the job.
Working hours: vary according to employer but can include regular long and unsocial hours. Location: mostly in towns or cities throughout the country.
Opportunities for self-employment: unlikely.

Typical employers

Social workers work in a variety of settings, including statutory, voluntary and community social services such as:

  • Adoption agencies
  • Child and family centres
  • Community development projects
  • Counselling services
  • Child protection services
  • Learning disability services
  • Private sector, eg employee assistance programs
  • Mental health
  • Health boards
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Local authorities, eg housing departments
  • Probation and welfare.

Northern Ireland: The Health and Social Care Trusts (HSST) employ the majority of social workers. Social workers are also employed in many areas within the independent, private and voluntary sector, as well as the Probation Board for NI, Juvenile Justice, Education Welfare and specialist settings such as addiction services and fostering and adoption.

Career development

Promotional opportunities can be to team leader level and from there to senior or head social worker. Social workers can also apply for the position of child care manager in the Health Service Executive.


Republic of Ireland: While salaries vary, qualified social workers’ starting salary is €43,000+ per annum. Information can be obtained from various government departments, including the Department of Health and Children.

Northern Ireland: Newly qualified social workers, who have successfully completed the Assessed Year in Employment (AYE) can expect to have a salary starting at over £22,000 per year, which could progress to around £31,000 per year as they gain experience.

Entry requirements

Republic of Ireland:
It is essential to hold a qualification recognised by the National Social Work Qualifications Board (NSWQB) that will lead to the award of National Qualification in Social Work (NQSW). There are a number of routes:

Undergraduate courses: It is possible to combine an academic social science degree with professional social work training at TCD via a Bachelor of Social Studies (BSS) or for mature students UCC offers a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW).

Postgraduate courses: Entry to postgraduate professional courses requires a three-year social science degree or its equivalent. Graduates from other disciplines are required to take a pre-professional training course. Candidates must also satisfy certain standards of personal suitability for the work.

Specific degree subjects required

Republic of Ireland:
While social work is open to graduates from all disciplines, those with appropriate primary degrees in social science can apply for direct entry to professional training programmes without having to complete a conversion course.

Other relevant degree subjects

  • Law
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Social administration
  • Social sciences
  • Social work
  • Sociology

Postgraduate study

Pre-entry postgraduate training is not required for those with an undergraduate degree that combines an academic social science degree with professional social work training.

There are two routes to postgraduate study:

  • Holders of a Bachelor of Social Science degree may apply to the social work departments of the individual colleges.
  • Holders of a degree in another subject may do a diploma in social policy or a compensatory learning package/ assignment in order to be eligible for a postgraduate course.

Specific entry requirements

Applicants must undergo an interview, and relevant experience is essential or advantageous.


While continuing professional development has traditionally been undertaken by social workers, there is as yet no one universal approach in Ireland. However, an increasing number of career development options are available through both in-service training and advanced professional courses. In-service training is provided by the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW), by way of courses, conferences and seminars. The IASW are committed to training, development, practice and policy. Seminars are often run in conjunction with voluntary agencies.

Tips for application

Gain relevant experience.

Skills and qualities

  • Appreciation for human diversity and a commitment to social justice
  • Willingness to work collaboratively with clients, colleagues, and other professionals
  • Ability to problem solve and a willingness to make challenging decisions
  • Personal integrity and a respect for the privacy of others
  • Strong desire to help others
  • Good interpersonal and communication skills
  • Good report writing skills
  • Emotionally mature
  • Non-judgmental and objective
  • Empathetic and sensitive to other people's thoughts and feelings
  • Accepting of all races, religions, ages, problems, etc
  • Energetic, and posses stamina, as long hours may be involved.

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