Social work

Learn the common routes into social work, what it’s like and where to find work experience opportunities.


You’ll find social workers in a variety of settings within a framework of legislation and procedures, supporting individuals, families and groups within the community. For example, you may work in homes, schools, hospitals, public sector or voluntary organisations. 


What are the common routes into social work? 

An undergraduate degree in social work 


Postgraduate degree in social work; approved by one of the four UK regulators:

Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) 

Social Work England

Social Care Wales

Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC)


Fast-track programme; (applies only to England): 

Step Up to Social Work – full-time funded, 14 month programme for trainee social workers:

GOV.UK - Step up to social work

Frontline - two-year funded training programme: 

Frontline programme

Think Ahead - funded route to becoming a mental health social worker: 

The Think Ahead Programme 

To practise as a social worker you must be registered with one of the four UK regulators. 


Funding for postgraduate study  

The Advice Place (part of the Students’ Association) has a handy guide on funding options for students undertaking postgraduate study in social work.  

The Advice Place - social work funding

What's it like... 

It can be very demanding. Qualities, including an ability to work under pressure, empathy, time management, communication and listening skills are valued.

Use these profiles of common roles within this sector to see what each role involves, how to get into it, what salary to expect and who the major employers are: 

Prospects - Social worker job profile

Prospects - Care manager job profile

National Careers Service - Education welfare officer job profile

Prospects - Family support worker job profile

Prospects - Probation officer job profile

The role of a probation officer only applies in England and Wales; to qualify, you’ll need to undertake the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) programme which combines theory with practical experience. Training lasts 15 or 21 months based on your qualifications. HM Prison & Probation Service provides more information on the PQiP Programme:

Probation Service - Becoming a probation officer

Scotland has a different legal system from England and Wales; there is no Probation Service in Scotland. Equivalent roles are carried out by specialist criminal justice social workers, who are part of local authorities’ social work departments. 


Building experience and getting started 

Work experience is a key element to a qualification in social work. This can be paid experience, voluntary work or life experience through unpaid care to family or friends. 

An essential requirement for working with children, vulnerable adults or any role in the social care field is to pass background checks: 

In Scotland via Disclosure Scotland: 

Disclosure Scotland –

In England or Wales via the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS): 

GOV.UK - DBS check

The Students’ Association offers volunteering opportunities, exclusively for University of Edinburgh students, within the local community as well UK based. Search for opportunities – filter results by type of activity which include “care and befriending", "elderly", "physical and mental health" and "youth and children":

Edinburgh University Students' Association - volunteering opportunities

MyCareerHub – check for job titles such as “after school child care”, “nanny”, “care companion”, “personal assistant” and “care worker”:

MyCareerHub Opportunities 


When can I start applying for positions as a social worker in Scotland?  

The general guidance from the SSSC is that once they are notified from the University of confirmation of your qualification, you can apply for registration as a newly qualified social worker. 


Where can I find job vacancies? 

myjobscotland – advertise job vacancies in Scotland’s local authorities, such as City of Edinburgh Council:


Social Work Scotland, the professional body for social work and social care leaders, share job opportunities and events on Twitter:

Social Work Scotland Twitter, a recruitment website, advertises vacancies throughout Scotland: