Statewide social worker shortage impacting Tuscaloosa

By WVUA 23 News Student Reporter Caleb Aguayo

A general lack of social workers across Alabama is affecting Tuscaloosa and surrounding communities.

The Tuscaloosa branch of the Alabama Department of Human Resources cites high turnover in its offices, and representatives said they and other social work agencies in town are hiring.

Temporary Emergency Services Executive Director Karen Thompson-Jackson said there are several reasons for the shortage. A big one? It’s often a stressful job with low pay.

“Sometimes this field is not paying what graduates are needing to earn,” Thompson-Jackson said. “So it does create a shortage.”

At nonprofits like TES, funding can be razor-thin. That means the budget for employee pay can’t compete with salaries elsewhere.

“Sometimes it’s hard,” Thompson-Jackson said. “Because individuals are looking for wages that are a little bit higher than what most nonprofits can afford to pay.”

Social work can be a difficult career path, but there are plenty of employers looking for qualified professionals.

“We have a stigma that’s associated with us, that the only thing that social workers do is remove babies,” Thompson-Jackson said. “That is not at all what we do. We have to overcome those negative barriers that are being placed on us.”

People train to be social workers because they want to do good in the world, and every little bit helps, she said.

“Look at the bright side,” Thompson-Jackson said. “We are out there protecting. We’re there to serve, be great stewards and love the field and the profession that we work in every day.”

Because of the job’s demands, it’s not for everyone. In fact, many people who head to college for social work leave their first job quickly and never get another in the field.

“It has to be something that’s a true calling,” Thompson-Jackson said. “It’s not just about you waking up and saying ‘I want to help people.’ It’s about being a great servant leader and doing what you do because we care about our community as a whole.”

If you think social work might be the career path for you, Thompson-Jackson said she encourages you to do plenty of research and talk to people currently doing the job before making that jump.

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