As digital technologies become more prominent in how organizations work, employers are balancing the need for employees with digital and other hard skills with the need for employees with “soft” social, interpersonal, and communication skills. In fact, employers are increasingly prioritizing social and emotional skills; McKinsey, for example, predicts that skills such as communication, pattern recognition, logical reasoning, and creativity will be in high demand in the coming decades.
With these soft skills in high demand, Jake Bullinger proposed in a recent article at Fast Company that for-profit organizations consider hiring trained social workers to fill that need. Bullinger talks to Michàlle Mor Barak, a University of Southern California social work professor, who notes that companies today require expertise in societal good as they are increasingly under pressure to prioritize things like corporate social responsibility, work-life balance, and diversity and inclusion which weren’t on their radar a few decades ago. Social workers and other experts in social and emotional issues could be particularly helpful in people management and community engagement, Bullinger writes:
A human resources department staffed with therapists could better handle harassment claims, and recruiters working with social scientists could better target minority candidates. Corporate philanthropy arms would benefit, one can surmise, from case workers who understand a community’s greatest needs. The people best suited to run diversity and inclusion efforts might be those who study diversity and inclusion for a living.
I graduated with a master’s degree in social work in 2005 and have spent most of my career working in for-profit organizations. From my vantage point, social workers can provide an array of benefits, but organizations need to be realistic about what they can and can’t do.
MSWs are primarily trained to understand and analyze their clients and to help them improve their lives through counseling and by connecting them with much-needed resources (housing, medical care, food, education, etc.). A social worker may not be able to improve the overall behavior or emotional intelligence of the organization, but they can help change individual behavior and improve the social and emotional skills of individual employees via one-on-one coaching. Specifically, MSWs drive behavior change by improving self-awareness, asking questions in individual counseling sessions to help their clients have “lightbulb moments” about their behavior so they can move forward and change. It’s fascinating and rewarding work to witness that self-realization, and this kind of individual attention could be of value to companies in the midst of a culture change effort.
Beyond their expertise in individual coaching and counseling, many MSWs also have experience managing non-profit organizations, and companies can benefit from their business acumen. As their careers have progressed, many of my peers from social work school have moved into non-profit management roles. While obviously not in the business of generating revenue, non-profit leaders are running businesses and managing tight budgets, and are adept at securing and making the most of scarce funds.
MSWs with experience running non-profits likely have the right mix of social and emotional skills and business acumen to be successful—as well as to drive success among their peers—in a corporate setting. As companies get more creative in sourcing talent from outside their traditional pipelines, the social work community could be a promising place to look. Your next great manager might have an MSW, not an MBA.