3 Skills Social Workers Need to Learn During Their Academic Career

After the internet arrived, how students learn changed fundamentally and their expectations of their programs did as well. Schools that set their students up to be not just social workers but leaders of the industry will attract more students, enjoy a respected reputation, and have stronger alumni engagement.

Practical Skills Every Social Work Student Should Learn

Do you ever wish you had learned how to do your taxes in high school? Imagine if your civics class taught you why we pay taxes, how to pay taxes, and what your taxes will be used for. You would have learned the philosophy behind them, gained a new appreciation for the complexity of the tax system, and the crucial knowledge of how to effectively participate in it. 

Likewise, counseling students are in school to learn how to connect with people and help them heal. Yet, they also want to learn skills that will help them with the day-to-day operations of the job. No matter how passionate a student is about the academic process, most wish to combine theoretical knowledge with practical tools that will help them navigate their future lives.

Here are 3 skills that practicing social workers wish they had learned (or learned more about) during their academic career. 

Skill #1: Public-Speaking Skills

Most of your students likely did not get into counseling because they love speaking to large groups of people. However, public speaking is an essential skill no matter if they end up working at a high school or at a CSWE affiliated conference. Beyond helping them get rid of the jitters that come from speaking in front of people, help prepare them for career success with these three, practical public-speaking skills.

How to deliver an effective presentation.

Too many experts end up looking unprepared or worse, not knowledgeable, because they’re ill-prepared on how to deliver their message during a presentation. Make sure your students are the exception by training them on visual tools like Powerpoint or Prezi. Help them understand what a well-designed slide looks like, and how to do it, to keep their audience engaged. Make sure they also know how to structure the flow of a presentation to keep interest up and everyone satisfied. 

How to lead a meeting.

Like presentations, there’s an art to leading an effective meeting. Teach your students how to build out an agenda, prepare people ahead of time, and perform the right type of follow up afterward. Beyond making meetings more pleasurable, this valuable skill will help your students be more efficient and effective so they can spend more time helping their clients.

How to communicate effectively in a large group.

Even when they’re not leading a large-group discussion, skills like negotiation and persuasion are important for social work students to know. For example, social workers are often involved in advocating for new funding requests and, if they’re at a school, helping people empathize with children and families. These potentially tense situations require tactful yet firm communication skills that you can help your students gain. Set them and their future clients up for success by ensuring they know how to make their voices be heard.

Skill #2: Data Analysis Skills

Data informs seemingly everything we do and social workers use these digital skills every day. From examining how effective a particular program is to conducting needs assessments of staff and students, there are five sub-skills that are crucial to learn if counselors are to feel comfortable using data in their career. By graduation, they should be able to answer these questions.

What data should I collect?

It’s not enough to collect just any data. There are thousands of databases online and a thousand more ways to collect new data. However, being able to determine exactly what data point you’re looking for in every situation and who holds that information is important to ensure data integrity. As the cliche goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” Prepare your students for success by helping them understand what good data looks like.

How can I effectively collect data?

Students need to understand how to interpret databases as well as how to formulate their own surveys. For existing databases, they need to be able to decipher if it’s legitimate, spot any unanswered questions, and figure out how to fill in the gaps. If they’re collecting their own data, they need to know what tools (more than just SurveyMonkey) exist and how to phrase questions that aren’t leading and don’t miss anything important.

How can I efficiently collect data?

Most students will learn basic tools like Excel in their statistics class. Make sure yours are absorbing more than how to sort columns and multiply rows. Can they import data into Excel? What tool should they use when Excel isn’t enough? How do you manage surveys sent out by email? What databases are out there that they should check before undertaking a new survey? Help them save countless hours in the future by teaching them practical ways to save time that also will help them be better analysts.

How do I track ongoing data collections?

Hopefully your students will have the opportunity to conduct a large-scale study during their careers. Project management skills come in handy for this. Help them understand the entire process of data collection by teaching them how to use tools like Gantt Charts, best practices for following up, and how to correctly analyze data over various time periods.

How do I analyze data?

Once they have the data, they need to know how to use it and apply it. Can they accurately interpret results? And more than that, they should be able to spot what questions the data doesn’t answer. They should also be able to propose recommendations based on their findings and prove out potential outcomes by tying in tools like decision trees.

Skill #3: Multicultural Competency Skills

Multicultural and intercultural competency skills are only going to grow more important as demographic trends shift. This is especially true in metro areas. For instance in 2017, the percentage of residents who are people of color in St. Paul reached 50.2% while in Minneapolis, 40% of the population are people of color. Patients are far more likely to recover if their counselor is culturally competent in responding to their needs, issues, and is able to earn their trust and respect, regardless of race or gender. 

Encourage students to learn a new language but make sure they dig deeper than that. They can study abroad, visit the neighborhoods where their possible future clients live, and meet people with lived experiences they can learn from. Help them learn more about themselves too so that they can better understand how to relate to their clients. Tools like Project Implicit by Harvard can help uncover biases they may not know they have. 

When your students are comfortable with being uncomfortable, they’ll be better prepared to handle the tough and unfamiliar situations that will crop up during their career. Plus, most of them will be eager to learn how to better empathize with people as they chose this profession for a reason: to care for others.

The Bottom Line

When you prepare your students for an increasingly complex industry with these practical skills, they’ll feel confident from day one of their first job as a social worker and will be better alumni for it. Continue to add incremental changes to your existing curricula and technology toolbelt for easy but powerful, long term results.

Schedule a product overview today to learn more about how Tevera can help your program teach practical skills your counseling students want to learn.

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