This was a Q&A with a graduate, Lara Cocking, who has completed her degree in social work in 2013.
Social work is an exciting and broad field, allowing for a hands-on approach and a more long-arm approach and, of course, anything in between. Thus, this degree will appeal to a range of people who have a passion for society at large.
Essentially social work utilizes social theories to understand and resolve human problems.
- What degree did you do and how long did it take?
A Bachelor of Social Work (BSOWK), it took 4 years. So technically it includes Honours. If you would like to further, Masters would be the next step
- Where did you do your degree?
University of KwaZulu-Natal
- On average, how many hours a day did you work on varsity work through the course of the degree?
Difficult question to answer. This changed depending on group work projects/ assignment deadlines etc., and as the years went on I had to put in more hours. Your 3rd and final year when you are doing research and practical’s, it gets more intense. So, during normal lecture/assignment times, probably 2/3 hours a day. When there are deadlines/group projects, could be up to 4 hours some days (but not every day!) Sorry that was a very complicated answer!
- Did you have time for a student part-time job?
Yes…I babysat and au paired two days a week for a while (in the afternoons). I also worked occasionally at a florist some afternoons and every Saturday. I also tutored when I was in fourth year. I enjoyed all these ‘side’ jobs as it wasn’t an everyday thing. I think it could have been more difficult if it was more constant.
- Do you think this is a good general degree for someone who is not a 100% sure about making a career in Social work, or do you need to be sure this is your career of choice?
You will often hear people say that Social Work is a “calling not just a career”. I believe, together with my experience of studying, that if you plan to study social work, you NEED to have a passion for that line of work, as the reality of it is more than the glamorized view of ‘ I get to help people’. It is very challenging but incredibly rewarding. In saying that, Social Work is also very broad, having many different avenues and arena’s in which you can work…(Children, Adults, teen, Babies, adoption, prisons, legal/court, policy level, community development, project management.. and the list goes on). I even had a tutor once who said “I can’t stand listening to people’s problems”. As shocking as that might seem to hear from a social worker, her passion is to work at policy level, influencing social policies affecting social issues.
- How difficult/easy was it to get a job offer?
I had the privilege of being offered an intern social work position (for a lower salary) through my local church’s NGO. I had previously interned there after school so I had that connection. I did not have to send my CV out so I did not experience the level of difficulty in attempting to find a job.
It can be difficult especially if you are not a person of colour and not Zulu speaking. Many of my friends who got a bursary through Department of Social Development ( who are African and Zulu Speaking), and who should have been given positions still do not have jobs. In saying that, networking and connections are everything, especially through your local church! Build these up through your study years. Often the places you do your practicals will take you on if they have positions open. Be willing to accept intern/volunteer positions to gain experience!
- Do you have any further comments regarding this degree and its relevance in the job market?
There is a HUGE need for passionate and quality social workers. There are too many current social workers who give Social Workers a bad name as they are working simply to get a salary. Why I chose Social Work over something like psychology (even though there is a huge need here as well!), is that social work focuses on problems and solutions in context and tackles them holistically. Social work is a dynamic, exciting, challenging and incredibly rewarding profession, and its boundaries are limitless!
With the state that South Africa is in, we need as many people who are passionate about helping others as possible. Don’t study something that involves the well-being of others just for the money. Make sure you have a passion for it and won’t get lost in a world of corruption. The people you will be helping will generally be in dire need of compassion and patience, so make sure you go into this field ready to provide that.