With the successes of the $15 per hour movement and other activities advocating a livable wage, social workers (and other lower wage professionals) are feeling some dissonance. Many are in favor of increased wages, but have twinge of discomfort as they see fast-food and baggage claim workers making more money than them.
I have a solution that begins with shedding a common misconception that serves to keep social work wages low. Social workers are not people who are called to help people. Social workers are professionals who are trained to change behavior through behavioral economics and institutional change processes. This accomplishes two important tasks. First, it releases social work professionals from comparison with grandmothers, nuns, and volunteers who are loving people doing what they do out of the kindness of their hearts. Second, it releases professional social workers from the myopic view of jobs that fit their field of practice.
Story of Accepting Pay
I could share a number of stories I have come across in my coaching and years as an instructor. One, for example, is the student who was hesitant to accept a job at a tele-health company because the title was Telephonic Agent. She explained that the job was coordinating patient health services, insurance, and care including follow-up after doctor’s visits. She is on the phone about 8-hours per day, never seeing the patients in person. Her goal though is to “work in her field” and eventually open an assisted living facility. This is just a job to pay the bills.
First off, every job is a job to pay the bills. Second, you are working in your field. Your Bachelor degree taught you to be open to varying points of view, to communicate intentionally, and to seek information continually. It didn’t constrain you to one job description. In fact, it freed you from those constraints. Second, telehealth is an advance in health care today. Rather than requiring patients to visit hospitals and clinics, time and money is being saved while care and service is improving. Last thing, this is exactly the type of experience you want if your goal is to open a facility. You are learning how placements are made, funded, and negotiated.
Stop Accepting Low Pay
The reality is that everyone who employs social workers is not concerned about the development of individual social workers or the livability of the professional market rate. A selection of entry level jobs in Nashville reveals a beginning pay rate of $13.25 per hour. Opportunities in this range may offer mileage and medical benefits, but they also require extensive travel. They hire graduates without social work degrees, and consider training provided by the agency adequate for service delivery. These agencies will continue these practices until they cannot get the quality of applicant that they need for the job. Social Work professionals cannot continue to support low pay by accepting these jobs thinking they are working in their field.
A telemarketing job in Nashville with one of the health insurers starts at $15.50 per hour. No travel. No on-call hours. Weekends off. Some even offer profit-sharing.
Experience in Other Ways
You can round out your development as a social work professional in other ways. Your job for pay is not your only option. I coach professionals to develop your professional persona based on a reputation of productivity. What you produce is what speaks to your competence, not your job. Write a blog. Publish books. Shoot a documentary. Speak at conferences. Lead continuing education workshops. Gain your topics from volunteer work, grant contracts, and civic engagement. Be a social worker who produces, not just one who works. Be a professional who impacts the community, not just one who receives a paycheck.