Every profession is known by its mission and leaves a mark on those it serves. One field that’s designed to meet the needs, enhance people’s wellbeing, and improve the lives of people is social work. It’s an honourable professional and one that doesn’t always get the applause it deserves. Settle in and read our Industry Corner: Social Work insights as we hear from an industry professional about this upstanding career.

We spoke to a social worker, Precilla Hlangwane, about the realities of the job, what it takes to be a social worker, what goes into the job, and what aspiring professionals in this field need to be aware of.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I have worked with learners with special needs such as severe behaviour disorders like  conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder as well as autism. I have also worked as a child protection social worker.

What made you decide to go into this profession.

I love working with people and I also get fulfilled knowing that I can make a difference in their lives.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

We experience many challenges as social workers. High caseloads, families who want things to be done their way or are uncooperative. We also experience emotional burnout as a result.

What drives you?

Making a positive impact in people’s lives.

What does success look like to you?

People implementing what they have learnt in the sessions.

Who does social work target and help?

Social work is for people in dire need. These include marginalised people such as women and children, people with disabilities, the elderly, the LGBTIQ+ community and individuals with mental illness.

What essential skills should every social worker have?

Interviewing skills, communication skills, listening skills, empathy skills and so forth. These skills are needed because we work closely with people and you need to be sensitive to their needs.

What qualities do you need to succeed in this career?

Patience, good communication skills, problem solving skills, liaising, networking, time management, empathy and so forth.

What are the possible career paths one can pursue with social work?

You can work as a counsellor, family advocate, mediator, researcher and so forth.

What’s the biggest challenge facing social workers?

Unemployment. Even though there is much work to do, we struggle with not enough people in the profession. We’re also under heavy stress every day.

What is the role of a social worker?

Educator, counsellor, broker, researcher, mediator, mental health advocate and so forth. We do a lot.

What are the steps one should take to become a social worker?

You need a bachelor of social work degree. There are also other courses you can do to know more and be more well-rounded.

What’s a typical day in the life of a social worker look like?

There are often lots of back to back meetings, we perform many assessments, do a lot of home visits, and court attendance.

What is the biggest misconception about social work/social workers?

That social workers only assist people with grants and food parcels.

What should everyone know about social work?

That social work is a noble profession.

What words of encouragement can you give someone looking to pursue a career in social work?

With the high rate of unemployment, it will be difficult to encourage someone to pursue a career in social work.

What are the top three things every social worker should know/remember?

  • Self-care
  • Capacitating people with social skills that they lack.
  • Resources (legislative frameworks, community resources and so forth).

Everyday is a learning opportunity, a chance to grow your network and be a part of influencing social policy. 

Social workers play integral roles in all aspects of society. They improve the quality of life of members of the community they serve in. They help advance key social programmes and are there to uplift the downtrodden. 

Our industry corner on social work highlighted the value of the profession and the impact it has on those it helps. Fulfilling as it is, the high stress levels, complex issues and a myriad of other problems can overshadow this. Therefore, it’s imperative that you not only set goals for yourself, but remain informed about changes and updates and create a healthy work-life balance. While you’re taking care of others, you shouldn’t forget to take care of yourself. 

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