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Social Worker

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.

Pay

Social workers usually earn

$59K-$75K per year

Senior social workers usually earn

$75K-$118K per year

Source: Te Whatu Ora, Apex, Oranga Tamariki, 2023.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a social worker are average for new graduates, but good for those with experience.

Pay

Pay for social workers varies depending on their skills, experience, the type of work they do and their employer.

Pay for social workers who work at Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand and Oranga Tamariki:

  • Social workers usually earn $59,000 to $75,000 a year.
  • Senior social workers usually earn $75,000 to $90,000.
  • Senior social workers with extra responsibilities can earn up to $118,000.

Source: Te Whatu Ora Health NZ and APEX, 'Social Worker Collective Agreement July 2022- October 2023', Oranga Tamariki website, accessed February 2023.

(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).

Working conditions

Social workers:

  • 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?

Terewai Rikihana

Terewai Rikihana

Social Worker

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."

Social worker video

Alisi Afa talks about life as a social worker – 2.14 mins.

Hi, I'm Alisi and I'm a social worker.
So I am a "SWiS", which is a Social Worker In School.
And what I do is I advocate for our students.
I can also advocate for our whānau and wider community as well. Usually a child
comes and sees me that, you know, it's been pretty rough at home.
They want their voices to be heard, but they struggle to,
and that's pretty much my key goal is I can be there for them, to tell our
kids,
"You are worthy enough". I put programs into school – programs that will actually
help our kids with their learning and what their actual needs are for their
education.
And also it can be programs that will help our kids to connect with their
cultural identity, help them to be confident in themselves.
Some of our children may be finding it difficult to actually express how they're
feeling. So what we do is we just, you know, let them draw their name,
how they're feeling. And another thing that we have is sand
therapy.
Having sand therapy actually helps them to calm down,
gets them to gather their thoughts sometimes when they're really angry and we
just go, "Hey,
tell me how you're feeling?" So the qualifications that you need is your
Bachelor's of Social Work and whichever job you apply for,
they help you with your registration
through the Social Work Registration board.
So the subjects that I took was, that's really helpful, was definitely English,
definitely Health Studies as well. And yeah,
voluntary work really does help because then in that way it gives that
organisation an idea that you do have some experience within the community. The
most challenging thing about my work is when a whānau comes into my
office and wants to talk more heavy things that have been going on at home.
I never had a social worker in school back in my day.
So to see it now and for me to be one is pretty much
my main goal when I had finished high school and I felt like I've accomplished
it. So yeah.

Entry requirements

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. 

Secondary education

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.

Personal requirements

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.


Photo: Terewai Rikihana

Terewai Rikihana

Social Worker

Useful experience

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.

Registration

Social workers need to be registered with the Social Workers Registration Board.

Find out more about training

Te Rau Matatini - Māori Health and Māori Workforce Development
0800 628 28464 - communications@teraumatatini.com - www.teraumatatini.com
Check out related courses

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 

Demand for trained and experienced social workers is increasing due to:

  • a preference by employers to take on trained social workers
  • the focus of Oranga Tamariki 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.

Social worker appears on Immigration New Zealand's Green List. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled social workers from overseas to work in New Zealand.

Government biggest employer of social workers

Most social workers are employed by the Government. 

  • Te Whatu Ora employ 23% of registered social workers
  • Oranga Tamariki 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. 

Sources

  • Immigration New Zealand, Green List, April 2023, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
  • 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:

  • policy-making
  • research
  • teaching.

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
  • disability
  • violence prevention
  • community development.
A younger man with a clipboard leans towards an older man who is wiping his eyes

Social workers care for, advise and support people with personal or social problems

Last updated 5 December 2023