Social work is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States, with more than 680,000 people in the field. Still, there are relatively few men in social work. A recent study from the George Washington University Health Workforce Institute and School of Nursing indicated that 80 percent of social workers with a bachelor’s or master’s degree are women. We hope more men enter the social work profession because they bring much to the clients that social workers serve. Male social workers can be role models to children who do not have a stable male presence in their lives. They can also bring a different perspective to the child welfare investigative process and model to clients who are male about the best ways to care for children, studies have shown.

What are some trends you are seeing in Social Work today?

The biggest trend I see in social work is finding social workers involved increasingly in just about every critical aspect of health, human services, social justice advocacy and beyond, including working in unexpected settings such as libraries and business. Over the past decade, we have seen a 16 percent increase in the number of social work jobs, including an incredible 60 percent increase in the number of social workers employed in health care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be another 16 percent growth in the number of social workers over the next decade, outpacing the average 7 percent growth anticipated across all other industries. 

We are also seeing an increase in the impact of scientific research on social work practice, education and social policy advocacy. Social work researchers are the preeminent researchers in the areas of anti-poverty policy and child welfare policy and practice, and are quickly emerging as significant contributors to health policy and practice. Social workers have long known the importance of the social determinants of health in achieving better health outcomes. Research reveals that 80 percent of health outcomes are due to social factors like housing, income, employment, mental health and environmental factors. Increasingly, social work researchers are using the most innovative research methodologies and playing leadership roles in research institutes and laboratories.

Another important trend is that more social workers are working in interdisciplinary teams, collaborating more frequently across professional disciplinary boundaries — especially in the area of interdisciplinary education in health — and the provision of integrated healthcare.

Why were you inspired to go into a career in social work?

Throughout my childhood, my mother always told me to center my work life and career choices around helping people. Her wisdom and guidance was a critical factor in my choice to enter social work. I often tell the story of the convergence of my mom’s axiom to focus on helping people and my recruitment into college football.

Immediately after my final high school football game, my head coach came into the locker room and told me that 15 college football scouts wanted to talk to me. “Talk to me!” I thought. And there I was thinking that I had played my last football game. Of the 15 scouts I talked to that night, only one asked me what I’d like to major in — what I’d like to do with my life. After he explained to me what a “major” was — I had no previous plans to attend college and was totally unfamiliar with the act of declaring a major) — I asked him if there was a major that focused on helping people. He replied, social work. Imagine a 17-year-old high school senior making a life-changing career decision based on the advice of a football recruiter. I chose West Texas A&M because I believed that they cared more about me as person and would help me in my newly found pursuit to become a social worker. 

What advice do you have for an individual hoping to work in the social work field?

Fortunately, I get plenty of opportunities to talk with aspiring social workers and students. For instance, I was at a football game over the weekend and had a wonderful discussion with a social work student. He was so excited about entering the field and sharing his learning experiences working at a homeless shelter and getting the “social advocacy bug” for homelessness prevention advocacy. It’s so encouraging to know that the next generation of social workers will achieve even greater heights than previous generations of social workers and contribute even more to the betterment of society.

Generally, I tell aspiring social workers the same thing: Social work is a wonderful profession that has endless opportunities for making a difference and helping to change people’s lives. A decision to enter social work is a decision you won’t regret.

What are some of the biggest rewards and hardships of working in social work?

I had the pleasure of serving as the child welfare commissioner in Massachusetts. I was constantly being told that I had the toughest job in the Commonwealth, but most days I believed I had the best job. I always told my friends that for every bad day there were 40 or 50 good days. I have found this to be true across all areas of social work practice.

Social workers often see the very worst and the very best of human behavior. Thankfully, the good far outweighs the bad. In my career, I’ve seen moms and dads who I thought could never be clean and sober achieve sobriety and have their children returned to their care. 

I’ve seen individuals struggling with mental health challenges recover and lead productive, involved lives. One friend, whom I first met when he was engaged in mental health treatment, was recently selected to serve on a prestigious national blue-ribbon committee working to improve our nation’s mental health system. 

I’ve experienced firsthand the life-transformative wonders that foster and adoptive parents bring to children’s lives. I could go on and on — from seeing homeless individuals and families prosper from the kindness of strangers to building and transforming health and human service delivery systems to better serve people.

What has social work meant to you?

As an African-American male, I have found social work to be a natural fit that’s perfect for me. I’ve been able to fulfill all of my career aspirations and experience a deep-down sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing that I was making a difference in people’s lives, within the broader community, and across our society. The profession has afforded me the opportunity to develop and grow a wide range of competencies that have proven to be transferable across the private non-profit, private for-profit and government sectors. These skills and abilities have allowed me to work in numerous settings, including micro, mezzo, and macro. 

When I talk to young men considering careers in social work, it brings a smile to my face when I hear them speak about their desire to help other men take greater responsibility for their lives, their families and their communities and their desire to make the world more just for all people.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak to the sheer joy I’ve experienced working with my clients and their communities throughout my career. I have often received more from the process than I gave (and believe me I have given and given and given out of a desire to be the absolute best social worker I could be and the deep-down belief that every client deserved my absolute very best). Ironically, the more we give (overcoming the challenges and offering the very best responses) the more we receive (the rewards). Most people choose social work with a clear understanding of the chance to make a difference and a clear understanding of the inherent challenges. However, most are unmindful of to the endless rewards the profession brings.