Ministry of Business and Innovation - Occupation Outlook

Occupation Outlook | Main MBIE Site

Social Workers

Job Prospects

Job Prospects... At a glance

Job prospects for social workers are quite good. Although it can be difficult to get the first job, the demand for social workers is rising. Their income is slightly above average.

How to become a social worker

What they do

Social workers provide advice and support to individuals and families with personal or social problems. They also help with community and social issues.


To become a social worker, you need to be registered with the Social Workers Registration Board. This requires completion of a recognised qualification, which usually means a Bachelor of Social Work. A full list of recognised qualifications is available from the Board’s website.

Social Workers Registration Board, recognised qualifications:

Cost of study

Bachelor of Social Work
$24,900 over four years


Average costs in 2018 for a domestic student. Costs vary between institutions. First time students may be eligible for fees-free
tertiary education for their first year of study, which will reduce the total cost. For more information about fees-free eligibility, go to Some polytechnics may have a zero-fees scheme. Further costs include materials, textbooks, and accommodation.Rents vary from place to place. Estimated market rents by region, city and suburb are available on the MBIE Tenancy Services website.

The StudyLink website provides general budget advice for students, and the Sorted website provides help with detailed budget planning.

Tenancy Services:

Where to study

Many education providers offer recognised social work degrees, and some also offer distance learning, so this degree can be completed from anywhere in New Zealand.

Income and employment prospects


In 2017, the average annual income for social workers is estimated to be around $52,000.

Estimated Average Income

Source: MBIE estimates based on Statistics NZ Census and Labour Cost Index.

Employment and skill shortages

Social Workers’ employment

HistoricProjected Growth
2006 2013 2021 2026
8,979 11,298 13,243 14,569
  3.3% 2.7% 1.9%

Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections. Percentages are compound annual growth rates.
* Growth projections are based on the broader category “Social and Welfare Professionals”.

The number of social workers in employment grew quickly between 2006 and 2013. Growth is projected to continue at a slower, but still high rate. A relatively high proportion (30%) of social workers are more than 55 years old, and their expected retirement in the coming years should lead to an increasing demand for new social workers.

However, it should be noted that getting your first job in social work can be hard, as the job can be stressful and many employers prefer workers with experience.

Employment chart


Source: Statistics NZ Census and MBIE projections

Outcomes after qualification completion*

OverseasIn further studyReceiving a benefitIn employmentMedian Salary
10% 8% 0% 78% $47,000

Source: Tertiary Education Commission
*Three years after completion of Bachelor Degree - Human Welfare Studies & Services.

Three years after completing a bachelor’s degree in the broader category ‘Human welfare studies’, most graduates were in employment. Some were in future study or overseas. The median salary was around $47,000 three years after graduation.

Social workers are not on Immigration New Zealand’s skill shortage lists.

Immigration NZ, skill shortage list:

Where to find job vacancies

Social worker vacancies are advertised through public media such as Trade Me Jobs and Seek.

Trade Me Jobs:

Career path

Most social workers are employed by the government or NGOs. The two biggest employers are Child, Youth and Family, and district health boards (DHBs).

Social workers can specialise in working with certain groups such as Māori or elderly people, or the can specialise in certain problems, such as drug addiction or mental health issues.

Some experienced social workers move into management or training roles.

Related occupations

The following occupations are related roles or alternative titles. Some of the roles may require a higher level of skill than entry-level social workers.

  • Case Manager
  • Community Worker
  • Counsellor
  • Probation Officer
  • Whanau Support Worker
  • Youth Worker

Other information


More information on social workers is available on the Careers New Zealand website and through the "Just the Job" video.

Careers New Zealand:
Just the Job video clip: A Career in Youth Work


The Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) is the official classification of occupations in New Zealand.

The occupation of social workers has been coded to the following ANZSCO codes for the purpose of this report:

2725 –Social Workers
272613 –Welfare Worker