The Struggles of Being a Macro Student and How We Can All Be Supportive

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We all know that social work is a versatile field. There are many opportunities within the field to do a variety of things on a variety of levels. We all should know that all levels of work are necessary in order to successfully implement the mission of social work. Even though all levels of social work are necessary, many schools and social workers tend to put efforts in micro level initiatives. There is certainly a need for these initiatives, but focusing the majority and almost all resources on micro efforts can be a struggle for many macro students. Without proper support and resources, macro students can have a hard time during the time in a program.

Here are some of the examples of struggles I have come across and discovered for macro students. These struggles compliment and repeat some of the issues released in the Rothman Report , which you all should read if you have not had the chance.

  • Forced Micro Experiences: Everyone knows that every social work program has some forced micro component. There are some program implementing macro components in requirements, but it is predominantly micro. This probably has to do heavily with state licensure exams content and schools accommodating to their requirements. If a student knows they want to do macro work, why are they forced into micro opportunities? Yes, there are skills that all social workers need to know, but schools can certainly accommodate to the needs of macro students. Social work is what you make of it, and you can’t make much of the opportunities if you are forced into certain ones
  • Minimal Exploration Opportunities: While you are a student, you should be exploring the career fields you would like to pursue. Since social work students have a short amount of time to obtain their degree, it is hard to explore various macro opportunities if you spend half the time in a micro setting. Trying out new experiences if how we learn and how we develop our career aspirations. Without time to explore, schools are feeding us down a certain path.
  • Lack of opportunities with Social Work Programs: There are a numerous opportunities out there macro students and in some ways more flexibility, but social work program tend to focus their efforts on micro students based on the overwhelming amount of micro students and faculty. Micro classes are offered more often and micro opportunities are encouraged.
  • Quality of opportunities: With a micro focus, many schools focus their resources on those opportunities and the macro courses suffer. This causes many macro students to go outside the program to search for quality education and opportunities or not even enter the programs. I know my decision to enter my social work program was based on the macro education, and I dismissed many schools with poor macro concentrations.
  • Trouble with post-graduation employment: Since the quality of macro educations are many times sub-par, the students leaving the programs are then sub-par and may not be able to attain the macro job opportunities they desire and have to settle for a micro job. If a student has a primarily micro background, then they won’t be qualified for macro jobs without proper experience or if they obtained the job, they perform poorly. Macro students are losing positions to other professionals because their programs are preparing them better and allowing for flexibility.
  • Risk of Being Classified as an UNFIT Social Worker: This is an interesting point, but also sad at the same time. I will repeat myself again that not all social work is focused on clinical intervention, and if we only focus on clinical treatment, societal problems will not be addressed. Micro work is not for everyone. I certainly do not want to perform therapy, and I should not feel incompetent as a social worker because of it. I have heard of incidences of macro students being kicked out of their programs because they do not want to perform therapy or asked to do micro work and their field supervisors claim they are unfit social workers. There is even a person in my school that tells students to withdraw from the program if they do not want to do therapy in their field placements which is ridiculous. I don’t have to be a good therapist to be a good social worker.
  • The Constant Questioning of Goals/Intentions: Every student gets asked “What do you want to do with your degree?” This is a reasonable question to engage in conversation and learn about the individual, but for macro students it can be a challenging subject. Many experienced social workers constantly suggest ideas and have an expectation of social workers that they force on current students. Macro social work sometimes does not cross their radar as “real” social work. Also, a micro focused curriculum and field experience forces does not help students pursue macro social work. If macro students are constantly being told what they want to do is not social work and being forced into opportunities they do not want to do, then why should they purse a social work degree?
  • The Struggle to Stay Motivated: As we all know, social change takes a long time and a lot of effort. If macro students who desire to pursue social change are surrounded by people who do not want to contribute or are too burned out from their clients, then macro students can struggle with staying motivated to want to implement change. Instead of giving support, micro social workers can limit macro students’ perceptions of social workers and diminish their motivation.

There are ways that each one of us can help continue to promote macro social work and encourage students to pursue this tract. Here are some ways EVERYONE can help:

  • Never limit your definition of social work: Social work is what people make it, and as long as it is promoting social justice and ameliorate society, then it should count as social work. Never tell someone their work does not matter nor it’s not social work because you don’t think it is.
  • Ask to Help rather than give Advice: This is an issue in many fields, especially social work. Experienced social workers and fellow peers should be asking students how they can help them, rather than giving unsolicited advice. Of course, advice that is welcomed is very useful, but don’t just assume a student wants or needs to hear your perspective on social work. It can be more harmful than helpful.
  • Start Connecting: I wrote in a previous article that all social workers need to be networking! If we keep connecting people with each other, than people can find support and resources in ways they could not have on their own.
  • Unite together: I know this may seem cheesy, but many students think doing stuff on your own is easier and shows strength, but asking for help sometimes is necessary. Getting together with fellow students or asking alumni for support could be really beneficial. If students are having problems, people should offer to help or at least provide support as much as they can. A unified front is stronger than several smaller individual ones.
  • Encourage instead of Discourage: Discouragement is definitely a struggle for many macro students, and it is important to support them in their exploration process. Remember, all levels of social workers are needed, and we need to ensure all are supported through their education process.
  • Challenge and Help Change: If you think your program does not do a good job supporting macro social work students, speak up and ask for the reasons. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes it is not. If things about be better, try to offer solutions or create a task force that could help. Change doesn’t happen without a challenge first.

8 Reasons Social Work Students Should Volunteer More Often

I have mentioned in previous articles that volunteering is important especially for students. Volunteering is usually thought of as an act of kindness benefiting the community, and it makes you feel good about yourself. Although this is true, volunteering can also provide opportunities which may far exceed your original expectations of simply giving away free time. It surprises me when social work students do not want to volunteer or decline opportunities given to them.

The social work mission is focused on ameliorating the community, and social workers should be at the forefront of improving as much as we can. Students especially should volunteering because the competitive job market, as well as the many doors that can be opened. Here are some of the benefits volunteering gives students:

  1. VolunteerExpands your network. I cannot stress enough to fellow social work students that your network is vital to your success. Being community leaders, the more people we build relationships, the stronger the impact we can have. Volunteering connects you with other volunteers, agency staff, and other community members.
  2. Career exploration. Many students do not have a sense of what they want to do when they enter a social work program. They sometimes struggle with their career goals, especially when they are placed at internship sites they do not enjoy. If every once in a while they get the opportunity to volunteer doing a new job, they can personally explore for themselves the career path they wish to take.
  3. Develop or learn new skills. Social work is a diverse field and requires us to have many different talents, but sometimes our internships and jobs only focus on a few of those areas. Volunteering allows you to test new skills that you may have not be using in your internship. Clinical interns can be learning how to fundraise, build networks, lobby, communications skills and other macro skills. On the other side, macro students can be working directly with individuals or providing counseling they may not be doing in their day-to-day responsibilities.
  4. Start building rapport with your new staff. Currently in my program, the first year students end their first year placements around May, and then begin their new ones at the end of August. We have a whole summer in between these where we have no required internship commitments. This is a great time to maybe volunteer or get involved with the agency you plan to be working. I just spent hours volunteering for special events organized by my next year’s placement, and I definitely plan to volunteer more before the end of the year. I made the time to get to know my staff before I start my internship which will make the beginning easier.
  5. Free Food/Giveaways. Do I need to elaborate? Financially strained college students not wanting free food and sometimes free giveaways, now that’s a problem.
  6. Personal Time. We all need personal time and we all need to relax. Social workers have a greater risk of burning out because of the exhausting work they do. Volunteering can be a great way to relax, feel like you are still contributing to the community and escape the hardships of their jobs or academics.
  7. It’s fun! I have the best time volunteering and I know many others do. Get some friends together and go have a good time!
  8. Feeling of Enjoyment. We all know that volunteering gives individuals a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment. We know it feels good and it is important. Volunteering feels even better if I know that I am assisting the staff with their jobs, making an impact on the community, as well as developing my professional skills. It’s a win-win-win!

Volunteering may not be easy with the amount of commitments social work students have, but if we remember that volunteering now only helps the agency and community, but helps yourself at the same time. With the amount of benefits that come from volunteering, I highly recommend students to do help out as much as they can handle.

Fundraising: The Skill that Stands Out

Students and college graduates across the country know that finding a job, and especially finding a job you like, can be a taxing and difficult process. The problem is the competitiveness of the job markets can put stress and limitations on the opportunities students can obtain. In addition, the social welfare field has strains such as limited job opening, overwhelming responsibilities, and not enough financial resources. Social work students work hard to obtain the necessary qualifications to get that perfect job come graduation. We as students are trying to figure out what experiences and skills are going to attract potential employers and stand out over our competition. One of the most valuable skills that any student looking to go into the human services field should learn is fundraising.

fundraisingFirst, it is important to clarify what fundraising is and the benefits from it. If you think fundraising is simply raising funds, then you do not fully understand it. Many students and professionals dislike fundraising because they are not comfortable asking for money or do not think it is important. Well I do agree that our society sometimes has an unhealthy relationship with money and wealth, fundraising is not just about the money. Fundraising is developing relationships with community members to obtain the necessary support for your organization.

I absolutely love fundraising. My social work cohort does not completely understand why, but I love it. I get the opportunity to connect with various community members, build relationships, and then offer the opportunity that is mutually beneficial. There are opportunities to help businesses market their brand, foundations impact the community, individuals feel a sense of reward, and communities feel the difference they are making. Fundraising has more purposes than making revenue, thus making it a vital skill for many organizations.

Fundraising has been a low priority for many human service agencies since the majority of funding can come from government grants or insurance reimbursements. Even though the amount of money from fundraising initiatives may be a small percentage of the total organizational revenue, it is still important to put effort into it, but could be hard to financial restraints. If social workers knew how to fundraise as well as provide direct care, they become a double asset for their agency. Even if their primary job is providing services, assisting the development team with initiatives can be have a huge impact for the agency. Program staffs that know how to fundraise are valuable and highly honored by nonprofit professionals. Program staffs also have a stronger connection to the agency that fundraising staff at times, making their contributions stronger.

As students, we have the opportunity to expand beyond our roles at times and assist in fundraising efforts. While we volunteer for special events or campaigns, we also develop important skills that will benefit us in our career paths. Fundraising is a valuable skill to know and social work students interested in the nonprofit world should explore options to learn more about it. I am currently a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Afpnet.org) and it is a great resource for professional fundraisers. I recommend looking into programs provided by the local chapter, or any other professional resources that will help develop necessary fundraising skills. Taking a course while in school or attending some training programs can be payoff as well. Learning to fundraise and learning to enjoy it will make a student stand out.

Social Workers Need to be Social Networkers!

Networking is probably the most important part of anyone’s career, and everyone, especially social workers and students, should be practicing proper networking habits. As social workers, we need to be leaders in our community and build successful relationships with various people, and it is important to connect with professionals in all sectors that can influence the social atmosphere.

imageofsuccessnetworkingcocktailpartyfundraiserNetworking can help build relationships with potential employers, potential clients, potential business partners, and potential personal relationships. Personal relationships drive the way our society operates because we are a social society made up of social human beings. People are more likely to give jobs to people they like or do business with people they know.

Social work students and younger professionals really need to be out there networking to ensure your career development is an easy transition from school and you career develops successfully. We are also the next generation of leaders, and it is good to connect with the current leaders now to understand how we can one day be in those positions.

A few tips you should know about networking:

  • Ask how their day is going before anything else. Don’t be that person that gets down to business right away. This is not a business meeting, and you will be known as that person in the community.
  • Never talk about yourself unless addressed. This is hard, but don’t make it about yourself. People sometimes think about how they can respond to some rather than actually listening. Focus on listening and asking more questions. You will get to a point where you can talk about yourself, but wait until it comes.
  • Always be respectful! Duh!
  • Be sincere. People can tell if you are just talking to them for business purposes. At least pretend to like talking to them.
  • Ask personal questions. Ask about their job, their responsibilities, and their lives. Unless, they are a spokesperson for their company, steer away from company or career specific questions.
  • Only give your contact information if they ask. Don’t just give it right away or stick your business card in their face. If they ask for your contact information, they actually want to stay in touch. Ask for their card if you plan to stay in touch.
  • If you attend the event with friends or coworkers, do not stick with them the whole night. You can meet more people and have more meaningful conversations if you do not have someone who knows you standing right next to you. They can be there for support, but also drag you down. Remember, one person is easier to approach the two or more.
  • Be prepared. Have a business card ready and be prepared to talk and engage.
  • If you plan to stay in touch, ask how. Email, phone, social media. Set up a plan.
  • Have goals for the event. Goals help you stay motivated and push you to talk to people. If you don’t have a goal, then you may just stand in the corner eating the free snacks. A simple goal is meet three people you never met before, or meet someone who can connect you with an agency who can provide you a job. Keep it simple, but have some goals in mind.
  • Never pull out your phone! It’s extremely rude, and should only be answered in emergencies. Everything else can wait.
  • Also, you should wait for them to share with you before sharing photos of your pets or families

One of my former supervisors taught me this method to approach people at a networking or social event. This has been really helpful personally with building relationships with people you may not expect right away would be helpful. The important thing about networking is no matter who you meet, there can always be a benefit of knowing a person. This method uses the acronym FORM and helps you realize potential opportunities to connect with the person in multiple areas than just business.

Family & Personal Life. Ask about the person about themselves before you ask anything else. You are talking to a person, not just an employee of a business. Talk about where they are from, their family, their education, and anything else personal first. Take note, new parents love talking about their children! Also, asking people about their family the next time you see them shows you actually care about the person. Pets are another great way to connect, as well as hometown or cultural traditions. Try to build a connection with someone rather than force it.

Sample Questions:
· Where are you originally from?
· When do you move to the area?
· What are some of your favorite things to do around here?
· Where do you go to school if you did?
· Do you have family here? If so, do you mind me asking about them?

Occupation & Business. After the personal life questions, transition to work. Some people love talking about their job, and some people do not. Our society identifies people based on their occupation. It’s important to know what career someone has, but always remember not to solely associate that person with their work.

Sample Questions:
· What do you for a living?
· Do you like your job?
· What are the best components of your job?
· How long have you been doing it?
· How did you get into that career field?
· What was the best part of your education?

Recreation & Hobbies. People do more than just work. Ask what they like to do for fun. See if they are involved in clubs or associations. People have many interests outside of working, and you could meet someone who likes similar things as you. Also, this is another area to talk about with someone and connect with them in different ways.

Sample Questions:
· What do you like to do outside of work?
· What do you do for fun?
· Do you volunteer for any organizations or causes?
· Do you know of special interest groups or organizations in the area?

Mission & Message. After speaking for some time with a person, this is where you identify what your goal is with that person. Share information about your agency or your career goals. Try to connect with them for professional development opportunities. Identify and plan a way to stay in touch. This is usually the part where us fundraisers talk about the great work our organizations does, and how the person’s support with be helpful or to be involved in the organization. This is a great time because you have demonstrated you actually care about the person more than doing your job.

Sample questions:
· Do you know anyone who could help me?
· Do you have any ideas/advice for me?
· Is there anyone here than you know that I can meet?
· Could we meet for coffee/drinks?
· I would love to stay in touch. Which way is best to contact you?

I have followed this method in the last few months, and met incredible people in the local community. It is truly amazing to hear more about a person beyond their current job, and their personal community service goals. You can figure out many opportunities that person can help you, and how you can help them! Remember social workers should be doing the best we can to ameliorate our communities. The more relationships you build, the bigger your impact can be on the community. Connecting professionals from various sectors can help unite the community in a way to really make a difference in the community. We sometimes underestimate the power of relationship building on a professional level, and it is certainly a priority of social work to advance social justice causes and change the community for good. The more people we know, the more our impact can have.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Eventbrite

The Crisis of Identity: the First Year Out as a Social Worker

Four intense years are spent learning social work theories and attending practicums to put theories learned into practice. Our values are challenged, we get a feel of our area of interest, and we develop our professional identities by being thrown into the deep end of field practicums. We receive our own clients, we mingle with existing professionals, and  we are responsible for our load. In class, we are placed in role plays that depict social work dilemmas and our conflict skills are tested.

kassie graduateOur assignments involve creating realistic workshops for client groups and given to agencies to use. Then, we write our resumes and locate our professional selves in preparation for employment. Last, we present a conference for professionals in all fields sharing our insights, passion and skills, and we write a final academic paper pinpointing an area of interest and our ideas for positive change.

But at what point do we become social workers? At what point do we suddenly go from student to professional? Our final placement leads us to feel we are inches away from being true professionals – we have our own clients, we participate in staff meetings and discussions, we write client notes and case manage, we attend regular educational workshops.

When we have our final class, we are congratulated as social workers; our photograph is taken and hung in the University humanities foyer. Then, we are told see you ‘in the field’.  We relax for a few weeks…we feel OK to kick back from job searching instantly as we are burned out from the crazy hours and stress spent on our conference paper. Also, it is near the end of the year, and we are told jobs will roll out at the beginning of next year.

Next year comes. We start searching for jobs. But we find a lot of the criteria requires two years POST experience…despite our placements, our four years of study…we are suddenly not qualified enough. Some of us have had jobs in the field but not for two years. Does this mean we are not fully-equipped social workers? Are we now simply ‘newbies’ who still do not know enough to get a real job?

How did we go from being prepped for employment, bursting to the brim with anticipation to suddenly not being ready? Some job applications do not return our expressions of interest, yet we hear a massive need for social workers. We suddenly feel inept despite being told we are professionals, and we suddenly feel there are no jobs for us despite being primed for employment.

We start to fear losing our skills and becoming rusty…we start to doubt our ability. We go from calling ourselves social workers to saying we have no experience because the jobs we search for require this. What do we do? Volunteer? But what about those of us who need to earn a living? Must we begin again on at the bottom of the rung when we have done the hard yards of study and placements?

Despite gaining a degree, we feel as though we are back in Kindergarten. So what are we to do? Ride it out? Keep applying? Go for other jobs that do not spell ‘social work’ and get our foot in the door that way? Endlessly advertise ourselves in the hope we will be in the right place at the right time? How do you manage the huge ball of anticipation you’ve been building for four years to sink your teeth into employment to have to sit and wait…wait…wait.

Again, at what point do we graduates become recognised as social work professionals?

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