Kaimahi Toko i te Ora
Social workers provide care, advice and support to people with personal or social problems, and help with community and social issues.
Social workers usually earn
$53K-$102K per year
Senior social workers usually earn
$75K-$113K per year
Source: DHB/PSA, 2020; Oranga Tamariki, 2021.
Pay for social workers varies depending on their skills, experience, the type of work they do and their employer.
Pay for social workers at Oranga Tamariki:
- Qualified social workers usually earn between $61,000 and $102,000 a year.
- Social workers with extra responsibilities, such as supervisor social workers, can earn between $82,000 and $106,000.
Pay for social workers at district health boards (DHBs):
- Social workers employed
usually start on $53,000 and progress to $72,000 a year.
- Senior social workers with extra responsibilities can earn between $75,000 and $113,000.
Sources: District Health Boards/Public Sector Association, 'Allied, Public Health & Technical Multi-Employer Collective Agreement, 2020; and Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children and PSA, 'Collective Agreement 1 December 2018 - 30 June 2021', 2021.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Social workers may do some or all of the following:
- support people in crisis, talk to them about their problems, and help them make decisions
- help people to access benefits and accommodation
- advise people on their rights and ways to improve their lives
- write reports and case notes
- advise policy-makers about solutions to social problems
- work with communities to help build on their strengths.
Skills and knowledge
Social workers need to have:
- knowledge of social work practice and theories
- an understanding of social and cultural issues and problems
- knowledge of human behaviour, development, relationships and social systems
- counselling and negotiating skills
- knowledge of social policy and how it is developed
- an understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Social workers specialising in working with Māori communities must have knowledge of te reo Māori and tikanga (Māori language and culture).
- work full time or part time and may work long hours, be on call or do shift work
- work in schools, hospitals, homes, marae, government agencies, residential centres and courts
- may work in stressful conditions, dealing with challenging and highly distressed clients
- may travel locally to visit people.
What's the job really like?
Many different types of social work
"The more I've practised, the more I see that I can't give social work one definition – it's so broad. I did placements at Massey where you can dip your feet in and see if you want to work in youth justice, a hospital or aged care. They all look really different."
Working for youth as a mentor and advocate
"I see my job here at Evolve as being an advocate for young people and extra support for them to move forward. I do a lot of one-to-one mentoring, help connect and set goals, literally sometimes just provide an ear to listen. But I also do case management which needs a good knowledge of policy, and a lot of networking."
Three tanga sum up the role
"We operate a one-stop shop, bringing as much support together as possible. I think of it as the three tanga – whanaungatanga/connections, rangatiratanga/empowering, and manaakitanga/being welcoming and safe.
"I really enjoy it. I always told myself that as long as I can say each morning, "Cool, I want to go to work," that is the right job for me – and so far I can."
To become a social worker you need to have a recognised qualification such as:
- Bachelor of Social Work or Applied Social Work
- Ngā Poutoko Whakarara Oranga - Bachelor of Bicultural Social Work
- Poutuārongo Toiora Whānau - Bachelor of Social Work
- Master of Social Work.
You also need to be registered with the Social Workers Registration Board.
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include English, health education, social studies and te reo Māori.
For Year 11 to 13 learners, the Gateway programme is a good way to gain relevant experience and skills.
Social workers need to be:
- excellent communicators who can relate to people of all ages and cultures
- good decision makers, with excellent problem-solving skills
- understanding, empathetic, patient and honest
- reliable, adaptable and able to cope with stressful situations
- able to keep information private and work within a code of ethics
- well organised, with good planning skills.
If you enjoy helping people and being genuine then that's good, but not if you want to be a superhero – that's not what we do. Our role is to see the potential in others and foster and develop that.
Useful experience for social workers includes:
- welfare agency work
- youth or community work
- nursing work
- teaching work
- work with families, children or people with disabilities
- counselling and support work, or other work that involves helping people
- work within an iwi or Māori social service
- work with people from various cultures.
Social workers need to be registered with the Social Workers Registration Board and have a current Annual Practising Certificate.
Non-registered social workers have until 2021 to become registered. You'll need to register to keep practising under the title of social worker.
- Social Workers Registration Board - information about Annual Practising Certificates
- Social Workers Registration Board website - information on social worker registration
- Social Workers Registration Board website - information on Social Workers Registration Act
Find out more about training
- Te Rau Matatini - Māori Health and Māori Workforce Development
- 0800 628 28464 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.teraumatatini.com
What are the chances of getting a job?
Job opportunities best for experienced social workers
Chances of getting a job as a social worker are average for new graduates but good for those with experience.
According to the Census, 8,019 social workers worked in New Zealand in 2018.
New graduates face strong competition but voluntary experience can help
New graduates can find it hard to get their first job as employers usually prefer experienced workers because social work can be very demanding.
To increase your chances of finding work:
- look for voluntary social work roles at organisations such as Youthline or Women's Refuge to build up your experience and contacts
- join a professional social worker organisation to gain access to mentors.
Rising demand for experienced social workers
There were 6,472 registered social workers in 2017. However, this is not enough to meet the demand for trained and experienced social workers.
Demand for experienced social workers is increasing due to:
- a preference by employers to take on trained social workers
- the focus of Oranga Tamariki–Ministry for Children on hiring more social workers
- high turnover of social workers who have been working in stressful entry-level roles
- around 10% of social workers leaving to work overseas once they are registered
- an ageing population needing social workers to assist with abuse or neglect
- an ageing workforce of social workers, nearly 30% are aged 55 or over, compared to only 24% of all workers.
Government biggest employer of social workers
Most social workers are employed by the Government.
- District health boards employ 23% of registered social workers
- Oranga Tamariki–Ministry for Children directly employs another 22% of registered social workers and funds social workers in community organisations.
Other employers are not-for-profit, iwi and Māori agencies, the education sector and private practices. Four percent are self-employed.
Most social workers are in full-time work, but 20% work part time.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Oranga Tamariki, 'Achievements from Year One', 28 March 2018, (www.orangatamariki.govt.nz).
- Oranga Tamariki, 'Grainne's Update', 27 April 2018 (www.orangatamariki.govt.nz).
- Sandford-Reed, L, chief executive, Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers, Careers New Zealand interview, May 2016.
- Social Workers Registration Board, 'Annual Report 2016-2107 E.73', undated (www.swrb.govt.nz)
- Social Workers Registration Board website, accessed March 2019, (www.swrb.org.nz).
- Staniforth, B, director of social work qualifying programmes, University of Auckland, Careers New Zealand interview, May 2016.
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Experienced social workers may move into management roles. They may also move into other areas, such as:
Social workers may specialise in working with certain groups, such as:
- children, young people, and their families
- older people
- Māori communities.
Social workers may also specialise in certain areas, such as:
- mental health
- drug or alcohol addiction
- violence prevention
- community development.
Last updated 24 September 2021