Social work is one of the few occupations that allows a person to do actual good in the world. By serving low-income families, abandoned children, struggling veterans, and millions of other unique cases of suffering, social workers try to help their fellow humans by introducing them to necessary programs and services, providing counseling, and so much more.
Unfortunately, most communities have a desperate shortage of social workers. As a result of the economic recession, more people are grappling with social, emotional, behavioral, and mental issues, and the need for caring and qualified social workers only continues to grow. Mercifully, technology allows many social workers to perform effectively despite the shortage. Though the need for human social workers will never cease, tech solutions help social workers do good more efficiently and effectively. Here’s how.
Social work of the future
By all accounts, the social worker job outlook is good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics believes positions in social work will increase by as much as 12%, a rate much higher than typical American job growth. However, given the rate of technological advance, it is highly unlikely that the social worker of tomorrow will closely resemble the social worker of today, and that is the result of technological innovation.
In 2005, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) created a number of technology standards to ensure trained social workers were appropriately competent to serve an increasingly tech-savvy population. More and more social work clients present with tech-related problems, and social workers must be capable of understanding the tech and finding solutions. Thus, as NASW and ASWB recommend, social workers of the future must be proactive in their research of emerging trends, constructive in their reactions to tech innovations, and rejecting of technology only if it fails to provide benefits to their cause or their clients.
Cathy N. Davidson, scholar and winner of several awards for her works promoting techno-literacy, writes in her book Now You See It, “65% of children entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet.” Yet, Davidson argues, traditional education often fails to prepare students for their futures, thanks in no small part to a dearth in tech-related instruction. Neglecting to incorporate common devices and systems, like tablet computers and video games, serves to delay familiarity with technology that can do real good in the real world.
Therefore, to prepare for the incipient tech revolution within social work, students should seek programs that prepare them with hands-on experience of the technologies they will need. Online schools inherently require some tech skill, and they are usually rather adept at providing instruction and involvement with emerging tech tools, like those social workers can use to find more success in their positions.
Effective tech for social work
As social workers widen their ability to cope with a changing technological landscape, most are adopting several tech tools for themselves. While plenty of social work tech relies on older technologies, like desktop computers, many of the most exciting and practical tools make use of the newest tech trends, like mobile apps.
Apps are convenient, which make them ideal for busy social workers. An app that includes a searchable reference list of symptoms and side effects of pharmaceutical drugs helps social workers better treat mentally or physically ill clients. Additionally, an app that allows for quick input of client data to include health symptoms, mood ratings, financial security, and more, can keep social workers organized on-the-go. Having information like this always available allows social workers to be more efficient in their jobs.
What’s more, social workers can utilize apps within sessions to learn about and help their clients. For example, there already exist a number of apps to assist with speech therapy for children and adults. Social workers can introduce their clients to appropriate apps and encourage them to continue using the app on their own time. Because many such apps function like games, clients might be more likely to practice and improve with such a technological treatment.
Even among the lower socioeconomic classes, technology is ever-present. Social workers must understand how technology impacts their client populations to be equipped with appropriate responses to emerging problems. Additionally, social workers stand to benefit greatly by adopting technology into their practices. Social work is good work, but it can also be easier work with applicable tech.
For more insight on how technology is changing the way we learn and gain skills, see How to Create a Culture of Continuous Learning.