Kaimahi Toko i te Ora
Social workers provide advice and support to people with personal or social problems, and help with community and social issues.
Social workers usually earn
$44K-$66K per year
Senior social workers with extra responsibilities usually earn
$59K-$100K per year
Source: Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers, 2016; District Health Board/Public Sector Association, 2015; Ministry of Social Development, 2012.
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2003-2012 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2012.
Pay for social workers depends on their experience, the type of work they do and their employer.
Child, Youth and Family (CYF) and district health boards (DHBs) employ over half of all social workers.
Pay for social workers at CYF varies.
- Qualified social workers start on $44,381 a year, and can progress to $65,200 a year.
- Those with extra responsibilities can earn between $59,200 and $74800 a year.
- Practice leaders can earn between $73,600 and $99, 600 a year.
Pay for social workers at district health boards also varies.
- Social workers employed by DHBs start on $48,000 a year and progress to $66,000 a year.
- Senior social workers at DHBs with extra responsibilities can earn between $69,000 and $100,000 a year.
Sources: Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers, 2016; District Health Board/Public Sector Association, 'Allied, Public Health & Technical Multi-Employer Collective Agreement, 2015 to 2017', 2015; and Ministry of Social Development, 'Child, Youth and Family Collective Agreement, 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2015', 2012.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Social workers may do some or all of the following:
- support people in crisis, talk with them about their problems, and help them make decisions
- help people with support such as benefits and accommodation
- advise people on their rights and opportunities
- write reports and case notes
- give advice on social problems
- work with communities to help build on their strengths
- use the law to ensure that people are held accountable for their offences.
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.
For those who specialise in working with Māori communities, knowledge of Māori language and culture is essential.
- may work full or part time. They may work long hours, and are sometimes required to be on call or do shift work
- work in schools, hospitals, homes, marae, government agencies and in the community. They may also work in residential centres and courts
- may work in stressful conditions, dealing with challenging and highly distressed clients
- may travel locally to visit people in their homes.
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.
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’s 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 meet the Social Workers Registration Board requirements. This includes demonstrating that you are a "fit and proper person" to be a social worker and that you hold 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
- an approved two year Master's degree.
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.
- Children’s Action Plan website - overview of restrictions on working with children
- New Zealand Legislation website - information on serious convictions that prevent employment with children
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training.
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/Māori social service
- work with people from various cultures.
To become a registered social worker, you need to meet the Social Workers Registration Board requirements.
- Social Workers Registration Board - information on social worker registration
- Social Workers Registration Board - information about Annual Practising Certificates
Find out more about training
- Te Rau Matatini - Māori Mental Health Workforce Development
- 0800 628 28464 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.matatini.co.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
High turnover and rising demand for experienced social workers
Demand for trained and experienced social workers is rising due to:
- 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 increasing preference by employers to take on trained social workers
- an ageing New Zealand population which is creating a demand for social workers to work with elderly people who are abused or neglected
- an ageing workforce of social workers: nearly 30% of social workers are aged 55 or over, compared to only 24% of all workers.
New graduates face strong competition but voluntary experience can help
Because social work can be very demanding, employers tend to prefer to employ those who already have experience.
New graduates can find it hard to get their first job, as the number of student social workers graduating has increased significantly since 2015. You can help your chances of getting your first job by:
- looking for voluntary social work roles at organisations such as Youthline or Women's Refuge, to build up your experience and contacts
- joining a professional social worker organisation to gain access to mentors.
Government is the biggest employer of social workers
Most social workers are employed by the government.
- Child, Youth and Family is the biggest employer of social workers in New Zealand with 27% of social workers
- The district health boards employ another 25%.
Other employers are not-for-profit and iwi/Māori agencies, the education sector and private practices.
Most social workers are in full-time work. About 20% work part-time.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Sandford-Reed, L, chief executive, Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers, Careers New Zealand interview, May 2016.
- Social Workers Registration Board website, accessed May 2016, (www.swrb.org.nz).
- Staniforth, B, director of social work qualifying programmes, University of Auckland, Careers New Zealand interview, May 2016.
- Tolley, A, social development minister, 'Radical Changes to Child Protection and Care', 7 April 2016, (www.beehive.govt.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Experienced social workers may progress to managerial positions. They may also move into:
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 20 January 2017