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Human Resources vs. Social Work Careers:
Choose Your Path

Human resources professionals and social workers share many similarities within their jobs in interpersonal skills. Both require strong communication skills, empathy, and a focus on helping individuals and groups thrive. Because both require similar foundation skills, it’s not unusual to see people transition from HR to social work and vice-versa. Yet despite the common ground, there is a difference between the two career fields.

In this article, we’ll look at what human resources and social workers do, what skills and education are required, and how you can choose the career path that’s right for you.

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Human Resources Manager Smiling and Shaking Hands with Coworker

What is an HR professional?

The main role of an HR professional is to perform human resource management functions, which include hiring, training and supporting employees, and maintaining engagement. HR professionals often work in corporate settings, but also work in hospitals and clinics, schools, and government offices.

Some HR titles and their duties may include:

  • HR generalist or coordinator: Assists with a variety of projects – while their specific roles can vary depending on the size and nature of the business, these roles generally encompass a wide range of HR functions.
  • HR manager: Oversees large-scale projects and strategic initiatives. An HR Manager often leads the HR team and is responsible for developing and executing human resource strategy in support of the overall business plan and strategic direction of the organization.
  • HR specialist: Focuses on one particular area, such as:
    • Compensation, Benefits and Job Analysis: Typically oversee salary and wage programs, as well as research and compare trends in benefit plans. 
    • Labor Relations: Interpret labor contracts and ensure that companies follow pay, pension, and management practice agreements. Labor relations specialists are often found in the manufacturing industry.
    • Training and Development: Coordinate and deliver training, such as occupational and safety programs, and online training for remote employees. maintain employee engagement. 

What is a social worker?

Social workers help individuals and their families improve their quality of life through counseling, advocacy, and education. They help people address challenges such as poverty, unemployment, and substance abuse. Social workers can be found in a variety of settings, including schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals and other healthcare settings.

 Four main focus areas are:

  • Child, family, and school social workers: Help children and families address challenges that are impacting the quality of their lives. They offer resources and best practices for parents who need support and assist children who are dealing with life stressors.
  • Community social workers: Advocate for the needs of communities. Develop public programs, secure funding, train staff, and implement and evaluate programs.
  • Healthcare social workers: Help patients understand their medical condition and direct them to resources that can address the emotional, financial, and social needs that arise with a diagnosis.
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers: Evaluate clients’ health and assess their readiness for treatment. Work with clients to develop goals, plans for treatment and strategies for coping with life’s challenges.

Skills and education needed

General skills qualifications for both HR and social work include:

  • Communication skills
  • Empathy
  • Organizational skills
  • Strategic thinking
  • Problem-solving ability

To become an HR professional, you may need to earn a bachelor’s degree in human resources, or a related degree, such as business administration, marketing, or psychology.

Degree requirements can vary in social work, which can vary based on the job title and specific roles and responsibilities. To find a job in social work, you may need at least a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from an accredited college or university. 

If your goal is to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), you will need to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. 

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How to Choose Between a Career in Human Resources or Social Work

If you’re deciding between a career in HR or social work, it can be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

What kind of work environment do you like?

HR professionals typically work in an office environment, whether this is in a large corporation, a hospital, or school. Some HR professionals may work remotely and have meetings via teleconferences or video.

Social workers, on the other hand, may work in an office, but may also travel to various locations to meet with their clients. They may meet at a community center, a healthcare facility, a school or even clients’ homes. 

What kind of work schedule do you enjoy?

HR professionals often work a “9-5” schedule Monday through Friday, which aligns with many corporate businesses. 

Social workers, on the other hand, may work varied shifts, including evenings and weekends, depending on their clients’ needs. 

Do you like to work 1:1 with individuals or larger groups?

HR professionals generally work with groups of people or departments within an organization. They may provide general training for all employees, and create specific training for a group of employees, such as managers.

Social workers tend to provide more individualized support for people, as well as families and communities. They listen to the needs and goals of individuals and then work to create a plan to help them reach their goals.

What types of problems do you enjoy solving?

HR professionals help individuals grow their careers and also help support organizations as a whole. Problems HR professionals solve often focus on benefits, finance, and employee education, as well as strategic corporate goals.

Social workers provide support for individuals and their communities. They work to provide support in the areas of advocacy, counseling for mental, behavioral or emotional issues, poverty and unemployment. 

HR or social work: Which path will you choose?

Both the HR and social work fields offer people the opportunity to help others succeed and thrive personally and professionally.

Learn more about our HR programs and social work programs today and start on the path of the career that’s right for you.

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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