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Social Work Positions That May Surprise You

7 Min Read

When most people hear the phrase “social work,” they think of jobs in child welfare organizations or their state’s department of social services. While many social workers are employed in offices like these, it’s also important to remember that social work is everywhere. Modern social work positions are evolving, and the new nature of this profession attracts students and professionals with varying backgrounds and areas of interest.

Described by many as a “helping vocation,” the social work profession has traditionally drawn individuals who desire fulfillment from their work and want to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. But today, the sheer variety of career opportunities available is another major factor motivating many people to earn a degree in social work. Outside of opportunities in social services organizations, some areas of social work might even surprise you.

Unique Areas of Social Work

Social worker requirements and responsibilities can prepare you to pursue a variety of career paths in diverse environments. In addition to industry-specific expertise, social workers often possess a variety of highly transferrable soft skills, including:

  • Advocacy
  • Conflict resolution
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural competence
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Leadership
  • Problem solving

These skills help individuals with social work training successfully apply their expertise to a wide range of industries, leading to an increase of social work positions in fields you may not have thought about. Explore a few unexpected areas of social work below.

Corporate Social Work

At first glance, it may seem strange to see “corporate” and “social work” in the same sentence. However, this trend makes more sense when you consider the recent increase in consumer demand for corporate social responsibility. Today’s consumers tend to seek transparency from corporations, including information about how companies treat their employees, the community, and the environment.1

It’s within this context that corporate social work roles have emerged. Companies often seek out professionals with social work degrees to fill positions such as human resources specialist; change manager; and diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist.

This type of social work could be a good fit for those passionate about:

  • Conflict resolution
  • Corporate accountability
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Employee rights
  • Learning and development

In addition to social work requirements, special knowledge of business and administration practices may help you find success in corporate social work. You may choose to pursue additional education opportunities, such as the University of Kentucky’s online DSW in Administrative Leadership.

Clinical Social Work

It’s no secret that America is facing a rising mental health crisis – and the lack of access to qualified care providers is making things worse.2 Clinical social workers, who work directly with patients to improve mental health outcomes, are stepping in to help fill this gap in care and provide people with the treatment they need.

If you’re interested in supporting efforts to improve mental health care, this could be the area of social work for you. Professionals who pursue positions in this type of social work may treat general mental illness or specialize in areas such as substance abuse.

Individuals who enter clinical, mental health, or substance abuse social work tend to share interests in:

  • Delivering one-on-one-care
  • Fostering healthy human development
  • Mentoring people at various stages of life
  • Supporting individuals through difficulties
  • Understanding the human mind

If you’re interested in providing care to people struggling with addiction or other mental health issues, learn more about UK’s Substance Use Disorder Certificate and Trauma-Responsive Practice Certificate. To pursue clinical social work positions, you’ll need to complete special training, such as UK’s online MSW with Clinical Social Work Certificate, and earn state-specific licensure.

Military and Veteran Social Work

If the idea of supporting those who have served our country resonates with you, you’re in luck: The Department of Veterans Affairs is the largest employer of master’s level social workers in the nation.3 Professionals in these social work positions play a pivotal role by providing several modes of support, including:

  • Aiding veterans in accessing military-sponsored healthcare
  • Connecting military members and their families with mental health providers
  • Helping veterans utilize education benefits
  • Providing therapy services to active military members
  • Supporting military members in finding affordable housing

Military members, veterans, and military veterans face distinct challenges and have a unique set of needs. Individuals pursuing social work roles that deal directly with veterans could benefit from military-specific training, such as UK’s online Military Behavioral Health Certificate.

School and Child Welfare Social Work

Many social workers gain a great deal of satisfaction from working with children. If that sounds like you, then you may find school or child welfare social work to be a rewarding career path.

School-based social workers collaborate with teachers, counselors, administrators, and family members to ensure children receive the support they need for success. This could be the right social work position for a person who:

  • Communicates well with children
  • Enjoys face time with students and their families
  • Would prefer a school setting to a traditional office workplace

UK’s online School Social Work Certificate can help you prepare for working as a social worker in a school environment.

If you receive satisfaction from helping kids of any age work toward their goals, you could also pursue child welfare roles in social work. These often involve working with public social services organizations to ensure children are in safe environments that foster healthy development. If this interests you, look into UK’s online Child Welfare Practice Certificate.

Community Social Work

Modern professionals also have the opportunity to work in an area of social work that serves the wider community. Community social workers look for solutions to challenges faced by an entire community, rather than by individual people.

For example, some community social workers play a pivotal role in disaster preparedness. Others work as community organizers who bring about change by advocating for vulnerable groups and individuals. Community social workers also work in policy roles, contributing to major decisions that affect the root causes of social issues and racial disparities.

People who may be interested in disaster preparedness, community organizing, or policy social work tend to have the following in common:

  • Desire to protect the interests of others
  • Interest in advocacy work that makes a difference in their community
  • Knowledge of or interest in learning about government or legal issues
  • Strong compassion for their friends and neighbors

Rural Social Work

Rural social work is another specialization for modern social work positions. Rural communities have unique needs and challenges, including:

  • Difficulty finding doctors
  • Higher rates of poverty
  • Higher risk of overdose death
  • Lower access to mental health support

Individuals hoping to serve rural communities as social workers need to be prepared for a broad range of work and could benefit from a comprehensive educational program that offers career-focused skills and specialized certificate options, such as the online MSW from UK.

Forensic and Criminal Justice Social Work

Social work positions are also available for those interested in working within the justice system. Criminal justice social workers do their best to ensure justice for all those impacted by crime, including both victims and perpetrators. Forensic social workers apply the principles of social work to legal situations and often perform advocacy work for victims.

Social workers in the criminal justice field may also provide support to individuals during civil trials. For example, social workers are sometimes called upon to help children during family court issues.

Individuals in this area of social work are often:

  • Committed to justice and fairness
  • Highly compassionate toward others
  • Interested in ensuring humane treatment for all parties
  • Knowledgeable about legal issues and the criminal justice system

Prep for Your Next Move

No matter which area of social work most interests you, the best way to prepare for the next step in your career is with a strong education. At the University of Kentucky, you’ll be learning from a program at the University of Kentucky has received the Quality Matters (QM) Certification4, and you’ll graduate having earned a CSWE-accredited degree from home. Explore UK’s suite of online social work programs today.


  1. The Investopedia Team. “Corporate Social Responsibility: Tracking the Top Trends.” Investopedia. Jul. 14, 2022. Retrieved Feb. 5, 2024 from
  2. National Council for Mental Wellbeing. “Study Reveals Lack of Access as Root Cause for Mental Health Crisis in America.” Retrieved Feb. 5, 2024 from
  3. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “VHA Social Work.” Retrieved Feb. 6, 2024 from,17%2C300%20Master’s%20prepared%20social%20workers.
  4. University of Kentucky. “UK Social Work’s online program certified for quality, among 1st in the country.” Retrieved March 21, 2024 from

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