Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

A Survey Comparison of Career Motivations of Social Work and Business Students

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

A Survey Comparison of Career Motivations of Social Work and Business Students

Article excerpt

CAREER DEVELOPMENT is an important issue for social workers. There is considerable existing research examining the personal attributes and professional expectations of those interested in social work careers (Karls, Lowery, Mattaini, & Wandrei, 1997). However, there is a dearth of available literature that would compare the motivations and goals of social workers to other career tracks (Abell & McDonell, 1990). This is surprising, as educators who influence the future of the profession need to understand the motives, aspirations, and expectations of individuals in training for careers in social work. Ideally, students who pursue social work education should be well suited to advancing the profession's foundational goal of bettering the human condition. Alternatively, students from non-socially focused educational programs, particularly business college disciplines that are not considered among the helping professions, might be thought to have differing career and educational motivations.

Very different personal ambitions and career outcomes might be expected between professionals pursuing a master of social work (MSW) or master of science in social work (MSSW; hereafter also referred to as MSW), when compared to careers such as a master's degree in business administration (MBA). In terms of relative career suitability and sustainability, it is important to understand the values, attitudes, and goals of aspiring professional students in training. Students pursuing advanced social work degrees have often had substantial prior experience in assisting others, particularly in the voluntary and public service sectors (Papadaki, 2001). Many are already employed in case services occupations with some initial practice experience, prior to entry into a graduate program. Often graduates continue on as more highly ranked case workers or as supervisors within the same or related service institutions following graduation. Before looking at unique differences, we should establish some similarities between social work graduate students and degree seekers in other disciplines such as business.

For example, students completing their undergraduate degrees in either social work or business programs have usually received at least 16 years of formal education. Having spent such a substantial portion of their lives in school, both MSW and MBA seekers then make the decision to continue with more years of education. Motivation levels must be assumed to be high as this extended pursuit often requires considerable personal sacrifice. The reentry into graduate school occurs typically at a time when the student has been working full-time and frequently has acquired a spouse and children (Simpson, 2000). The average age of graduate students is approximately 26 to 28 years (Joiner, 2004).

One notable similarity between the MSW and the MBA is that they are both essentially perceived to be terminal degree programs, requiring no additional or doctoral-level education to move on toward independent practice or supervisory roles within agencies, or other specified autonomous career outcomes (Bowman, 2005). However, this is where the commonality between social work and business degree paths is thought to end. Graduate social workers often continue on in careers that are agency, or social service delivery based, in many instances without becoming independent providers of service. Alternatively, business school graduates tend to provide goods or services through prevailing business models to the consuming public, often with the goal of being financially successful and substantially more autonomous (Kopelman, Prottas, & Tatum, 2004).

The MSW degree and social work education in general have been described as having subordinated academic status when compared to many other academic fields of study (Green, 2006). However, a possible career motivation that may be considered a relative strength of social work education is that social work has become something of a success story in recruiting students from disenfranchised populations into higher education, with relatively high degrees of diverse and multicultural participation (Jones, 2006). …

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