Social work is a sector that plays a key role in society and helps protect those who are most vulnerable. It is also crucial for raising awareness of social justice issues, fighting for the rights of marginalized people, and showing the world how important it is to treat everyone with compassion.
Although social work has been around as an industry for a while, it has never stood still. This is a real strength because it allows the sector to move with the times and constantly evolve to reflect the world around it. In addition, social work’s ability to change helps it remain relevant to those who turn to it for assistance.
A good example of this in recent years has been how social work has incorporated technology. This process has seen technology transform the way that the sector operates and also how social work professionals do their jobs.
But just how has technology revolutionized social work?
Becoming a social worker
There is no doubt that technology has transformed many parts of the social work sector – including how people train to move into the industry! Although a lot of focus on tech in social work may concentrate on how professionals use it in their roles, it has also had a huge influence on how people pick up the qualifications needed to work in these kinds of roles.
The best example of this is online social work programs that allow people to gain the knowledge required in a remote learning format. This is a lot more convenient and cost-effective than more traditional modes of study. In addition, online learning is ideal for those working currently who are looking to switch careers into social work or gain further qualifications to advance their career in the industry.
Florida State University MSW Online shows just what online courses deliver and what impact this type of tech has had not only in social work but also in education. Accredited by the CSWE and with a curriculum that has a distinct clinical focus, it offers a chance to gain a high-level social work degree on a part-time basis in just three years.
Job hunting as a social worker
This is another very good example of the impact that technology has had on social work. Before technology was so prevalent in this industry, people looking for social work jobs would have done so offline (via newspaper adverts or directly contacting employers to see if any vacancies were available).
In modern times, technology has made job hunting in the social work industry become a much more online affair. This is both for people new to the sector looking for their first role and those already working in it searching for their next one. Online recruitment agencies and job search sites rule the roost here and make it convenient to track down the job you want over the Internet.
When you have found a role to apply for, interviews conducted via video conferencing platforms are also a new development in the sector. This sees interviews carried out via popular video call platforms such as Skype or MS Teams. This is not only easier for candidates (who do not have to travel for the interview) but is also less time-consuming for interviewers. Interviews conducted in this way can also allow the candidate to feel more comfortable and give interviewers a better feel for their true potential.
Storing and taking client notes
In days gone by, social workers would have relied on a collection of handwritten notes and paper files to record key client data. This might have been everything from their basic details to private notes on sessions for the record.
Technology has transformed all this though and now sees social workers using the latest software/platforms to take client notes instead. Common examples of tech-based software that social work professionals use for this include electronic data management systems, Excel spreadsheets, and Google Docs.
In addition to technology changing how client notes are taken, it has also changed how they are stored. Rather than paper files in physical filing cabinets (which can be easily lost or open to theft), client notes are stored digitally on secure internal systems/databases or in the cloud. This makes client notes not only easy to access for those who are authorized to do so but also easy to track down.
Client sessions transformed by technology
For many people looking at the way that technology has revolutionized social work, this is perhaps the most obvious example. Although face-to-face counseling sessions are still widely used in the sector, digital platforms such as FaceTime are becoming an increasingly popular way to meet clients.
As a result, online counseling sessions are making their mark in the industry and changing how social workers interact with those they help. But why has this happened? One very good reason is the central role that online tech plays in society now and the familiarity that people have with video calls in other aspects of their lives.
This has seen people begin to value the convenience of online meetings and start to demand that social workers offer this way of attending sessions. The other major reason for the rise of online client meetings in social work is that the technology needed for it in terms of internet connectivity and mobile devices is more widespread now.
Most people have internet-connected smartphones now and access to high-end broadband connections. This in turn means that people are now more able than ever to access online sessions with social work professionals.
When discussing how technology has transformed the social work industry, it is also necessary to factor in how it has changed the way that social workers collaborate with one another. This is most obvious when thinking about colleagues in the same practice/setting who may need to work on a case together or seek advice from one another.
Tech developments from text messaging to voice notes or email makes all this a lot easier and lead to more effective collaboration between colleagues. Specific tech packages such as Dropbox also make collaboration a lot simpler and enable social work professionals to work on projects together securely. Tech advancements such as this are a major improvement over previous ways of collaborating, which relied on people meeting physically when their schedules allowed it.
It is not just collaboration between social work colleagues that has been revolutionized by technology though. Examples such as video conferencing and cloud-based collaboration software also make it simple for people across the industry, in general, to work together. This can help to spread best practices around the sector and lead to fresh ideas on how the industry can move forward.
Enhancing professional development
Although gaining the qualifications you need to move into your preferred social work role is essential, your development as a professional in the industry should not end there. It is key to keep progressing and expanding your knowledge base. In addition, you should always take care to keep up with the latest news in social work and the latest theories on how to help clients.
The best way to go about this is by a process of continuous research and reading about the subject of social work. Technology has made a real difference to how professionals do this in the modern age and it is now a lot simpler to stay updated. This is down to the ability to search for the latest social work news online and track down the latest social work studies or peer-reviewed research digitally. Social work blogs and newsletters from respected industry bodies such as the NASW are also convenient sources of industry news online.
When you compare how efficient this is to physically finding out the latest information via print media or visiting a library, the positive influence of technology is clear to see. Being able to search for the latest research, studies, and news online also means that you have access to a far wider range of information to take in – be it local, national, or international.
Social media in modern social work
One excellent example of how technology is changing modern social work is the widespread use of social media platforms within it. LinkedIn, for example, is a professional social media site that allows social work professionals to connect with others around the sector. This can help them expand their professional network and exchange knowledge digitally to keep up with breaking news in the industry.
Many social workers will also use other popular social media platforms such as Facebook or X (formally Twitter) as part of their role. This can be mainly to inform people of any breaking news about their place of work (such as an unexpected closure for the day), to keep in touch with service users, to offer their views on social justice issues, or to put out key information on social work to the general public.
Disseminating this kind of information is particularly helpful for educating the public about social work, what it can help with, and how to access it. This is naturally quite different from previous methods of public education around social work, which would have been a more in-person affair or done via leaflets, brochures, or offline advertising campaigns.
Business and management for social workers
Although technology may have changed the way that social workers train to move into the sector, interact with clients, or develop professionally, it has also made its presence felt in terms of how social work managers do their jobs. This is a very important position and one that enables professional social work organizations to function properly.
But how has technology changed this facet of the sector in recent times? It mainly comes down to the digital tools and online resources that social work managers use. These are a lot different from the pen, paper, and manual spreadsheets/notes they would have used in the past!
Tech-backed resources such as online calendars, digital spreadsheets and email all help managers fulfill their role more efficiently. They also make communicating with staff much easier and allow them to quickly disseminate key information to those who need it.
Mobile technology in social work
As in most other industries around the world, mobile technology and internet-connected mobile devices have changed the social work industry. Most social workers now, for example, will use mobile devices to more easily stay in touch with colleagues, keep in touch with the office, and contact clients – wherever they are.
Modern tablets and smartphones also allow social workers to carry out a range of tasks on the move – from conducting video calls to texting key information to colleagues, viewing their calendars, and checking their emails.
This represents a major change from the past, where social workers would have had to use landline telephones to stay connected with clients and colleagues. More traditional ways of working would also have seen social work professionals unable to carry out the tasks that mobile devices now allow when out of their main place of work.
Fundraising and technology in social work
Social work is an area that can rely heavily on fundraising to function effectively and fight for the causes it believes in. Whether it is social work facilities raising funds to improve their own financial health or social workers raising funds for causes they are passionate about, it is easy to see why this activity is so important.
Technology has had a major impact in this area and led to real differences in how funds are generated now compared to before. Online platforms to raise money, such as GoFundMe, are a good example of this and make it simple to connect digitally with people on a global scale who may be interested in giving money for a project/cause. Resources such as this are a lot more effective and a lot quicker at reaching large numbers of people than previous methods such as direct mailing, posters, or hardcopy newsletters.
Advocacy in social work transformed by technology
The nature of how advocacy work is carried out has also been transformed by technology. Online platforms such as TED give social work professionals a global platform to connect with people digitally and raise awareness of key social justice issues. By the same token, social media platforms have changed how social workers educate the world about key issues and help to gain more support for the causes they advocate for.
When you also factor in how online blogs and emails now form the backbone of advocacy work in the modern social work industry, it is clear to see how much has changed recently. Methods such as these are a major step forward from personal meetings, phone calls, and letters, which used to be the basis of advocacy work in the industry.
This change is highly positive because modern advocacy resources not only make it quicker and easier to educate the public on worthwhile causes but also make it easier to contact the politicians who can help resolve them.
Core technology/IT skills crucial for modern social workers
The above examples not only show the transformative effect that technology has had around social work but also signal how important it is for modern social workers to be comfortable with using it. It would be very hard to operate effectively in the sector now without having core IT/tech skills. While this does not mean that you need to be a high-level IT whizz to work in the field, it does mean that you should be able to use the basic technologies that are commonly found within it.
Although this may sound daunting, it is actually not an issue for most people who might think about moving into social work. Technology such as the internet, smartphones, text messaging, video calls, emails, and social media are something that most of us already use in our personal lives. If you can also use common IT packages such as MS Office, then you already know a lot of the technology used in the social work sector.
Where will technology in social work head next?
The above are all good examples of technology that has changed the social work sector in recent years. But where might technology in the industry head next, and what might the impact be?
As is reflected in other industries, it seems that automation and AI may well make their mark as time moves on. Automation may seem scary in terms of the threat to human jobs in the industry, but this is not something that should pose an issue.
Social work will always be focused on human interaction and the human connection between social work professionals and their clients. While automation may well be seen more around the sector in the future, it will be to carry out mundane, basic tasks and free up social workers to spend more time with clients, rather than to replace them.
Artificial intelligence (AI) could also be an important part of the industry as it also becomes ever more useful in other parts of our lives. Social work practices, for example, could use AI-driven chatbot software to answer common questions that clients may have online; or AI-powered tech could help social work leaders to predict future demand for services and plan for them more effectively. The impact of AI on traditional document verification is already something being seen in other sectors, and this may also be one way that this technology is used in social work moving ahead.
Technology in social work has sparked a real transformation
As the above shows, it is fair to say that technology in the social work industry has had a revolutionary impact in recent years. Whether it is how students gain the qualifications needed to move into the sector or how social workers engage with clients or conduct research, the latest tech has changed the way that things are done in this field. Emerging tech such as automation and AI is likely to continue this process and lead to further positive changes in social work as time passes.