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
$47K-$79K per year
Senior social workers usually earn
$66K-$100K per year
Source: DHB/PSA, 2015; Oranga Tamariki, 2018.
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 $47,000 and $79,000 a year.
- Social workers with extra responsibilities, such as supervisor social workers, can earn between $65,000 and $86,000.
Pay for social workers at district health boards (DHBs):
- Social workers employed
usually start on $48,000 and progress to $66,000 a year.
- Senior social workers with extra responsibilities can earn between $69,000 and $100,000.
Sources: District Health Boards/Public Sector Association, 'Allied, Public Health & Technical Multi-Employer Collective Agreement, 2015 to 2017', 2015; Oranga Tamariki, 2018; and jobs.govt.nz, 2018.
(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?
Working to help people manage their health can have practical challenges
Social worker Janine Olasa works for a service that helps young people who are experiencing psychosis.
"I am in the kaimanaaki position, which means that I work with Māori families. The idea of our service is that by providing information and education early on, we can help people to manage their illness better.
"We teach them about early warning signs, coping strategies and medication. We try and help them to accept elements of their illness and learn to live with it. With Māori clients, we also try to promote a healthy cultural identity."
Janine says dealing with difficult situations is a necessary part of the job. "When people are in a state of heightened emotion, there can be some real practical challenges because they may become violent or abusive."
An honour and a privilege to support clients
Janine also gets a great sense of achievement when she sees a client making changes for the better.
"It's great when a nice shift happens for a client and they really start to make changes, and succeed in maintaining those changes. I find those things hugely rewarding. It feels like an honour and a privilege to help people at a time when they are quite vulnerable."
Janine Olasa is of Ngāti Porou and Samoan descent.
Social worker video
Find out about working as a social worker - 5.03 mins.
Dallas: I decided to get into the family violence sector because I’ve always enjoyed working with people, and I’ve always enjoyed working with people who come from I don’t know what people might call a hard background, a tough background, a background kind of full of pain and strife and hardship really and I’ve always enjoyed trying to walk alongside those people and seeing them living a better life.
Kate: So I’ve been working in the family violence sector for 18 months and I started a career in Social Work because of my own personal life experiences, plus I’ve just always had a real passion for helping and supporting other people.
Neihana: Generally Monday to Friday there is just the School routine, they get up they go to School and then sort of and after that we have programmes, we have external facilitators that come in, a lot of it really is around exercise, and showing them what young people generally do even when they are outside of this environment. Getting them to try and be able to engage, pro social skills and being able to succeed once they leave us.
What is your role?
Merryn: My role is more meeting with families in their home and meeting with children and talking to them about their strengths and kind of what their needs are. And then looking at what interventions and what things we can put in place to support them.
Merryn: So we’ve just received a report of concern for this wee boy called James, he’s seen mum and dad fighting and that they’ve been using their fists to fight with each other. Somebody needs to go interview James at School and talk to him about what’s happening. Mum and dad need to be contacted, so we need to ring his parents and talk to them and make a time to go out and see them this afternoon. I would like them to contact the GP and if we do a Police Check on mum and dad to see if there is any history or anything concerning in their Police Check that we need to be aware of.
Dallas: The most challenging thing about working in family violence is I think getting to the young people to see that a lot of their anti-social behaviour, a lot of the reasoning for their offending, a lot of the kind of mental health issues, emotional issues, can be a result of the pain and the heartache that they have experienced through family violence. And, but asking a teenager to see those things and to I guess work through those things is a pretty big deal, it’s hard enough being a teenager anyway.
Merryn: A challenge for me would be working with clients that are maybe a wee bit reluctant, or haven’t quite looked at themselves and looked at what they want to change but their outside family and other people involved with them might see that as something that they think needs to happen. So that can be a challenge at times.
Advice to someone looking at getting into the family violence field?
Dallas: There is probably a lot I would say to people who are wanting to get in the family violence field, into that type of work. Success and progress, and achievement looks very different in this particular arena and you do have to celebrate the small things along the way, so just be really real about that.
Merryn: To work in the sector you need to be a real people’s person, and have a real passion with wanting to work with people, of all kind of ages from children to older people.
Kate: Sometimes it’s good to be able to you know be flexible for those days that don’t plan out the way that you always wanted them to, but I think it’s a really rewarding career path.
Dallas: One of the best skills to have actually in this line of work is humour, I don’t know if you can call that a skill but it’s definitely something that has gotten me through this work being able to laugh at myself and being able to laugh with my clients.
Merryn: With a social work qualification there are lots of things that you can do and lots of ways that you can progress so you could be a front line social worker as long as you like, or you can move up to different roles, there’s management roles or you can move across sectors, you could work for a community agency, you could work for a statutory agency.
To become a registered 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
- Master of Social Work.
You also need to apply 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.
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.
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.
To become a registered social worker, you need to:
- demonstrate that you are a "fit and proper person"
- hold a recognised social work qualification.
- Social Workers Registration Board website - information on social worker registration
- Social Workers Registration Board website - list of recognised social work qualifications
Find out more about training
- Te Rau Matatini - Māori Health and Māori Workforce Development
- 0800 628 28464 - email@example.com - 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.
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 June 2018, (www.swrb.org.nz).
- Staniforth, B, director of social work qualifying programmes, University of Auckland, Careers New Zealand interview, May 2016.
(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 6 July 2018