Social Workers’ Educational Background Contributes to Administration Work

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 18
Words: 4865
Reading time:
18 min
Study level: PhD


Education and proficiency are part of the major professional requirements in several organizations, with companies considering these professional aspects as sources for their triumph (Hughes & Avey, 2010). Modern organizations have come to the awareness that education is becoming an imperative aspect for workers, as it enables them to remain competitive in the rapidly evolving business environment (Birdsell & Muzzio, 2003). As the need for social workers to engage in administration activities intensifies with the rising management demands, administrators are witnessing a mounting interest in trying to understand the role of social workers in management settings (Snow, 2012). Such developments can be important in understanding the reasons behind the enhancement of employee learning and development, which is increasingly becoming an urgent necessity in the social administration domain (Sullivan, 2010). Educational competency may deem imperative in informed decision-making, which is crucial in many social organizations especially those that are non-profit or intended for providing humanitarian relief.

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Problem statement

Whilst the demand for professional growth through continuous learning is increasingly becoming an organizational issue with companies required to enhance their performance through employee professional development, little remains known in this connection (Nesoff, 2007). Of great concern is that several previous types of research continuously identify low levels in social workers, and their great influence on employee performance, but little seems to show the required improvements (Hoefer, 2003). A 2007 report of an online workforce survey of the National Association of Social Workers of the U.S revealed that there is still a need to understand the significance of the educational background of social workers in the administration settings (Whitaker & Arrington, 2008). Approximately, two-thirds (66%) of the participants claimed that professional development is significant for job advancement, while a few (34%) stated that their participation in professional development activities is a significant factor in their development in the social occupation field (Whitaker & Arrington, 2008). This realization means that the essence of education in social work is doubtlessly important, but people either undermine or misunderstand it, hence the need to evaluate this concept.

Significance of the problem and the rationale of the study

The demand to provide humanitarian aid to nonprofit organizations across the world and especially in the U.S, as a country known for providing humanitarian support, is augmenting (Snow, 2012). The foremost mission of the social work profession is to enhance social justice by assisting humans, especially the vulnerable groups, in improving their wellbeing through assisting them to meet their basic human wants (Hoefer, 2003). For employees, the challenges that come with the task of providing humanitarian support especially while working for a nonprofit organization are enormous. Sometimes, pay rise and remunerations for the social workforce may not even deem imperative when considered in the context of the problems encountered (Birdsell & Muzzio, 2003). In order to remain competent and enduring, education and proficiency, which enhance an individual’s ethical leadership skills that are imperative in social work, are imperative. The levels of education among social workers in the U.S and even other parts of the world are insufficient, and even if educated, the educational skills may be inappropriate or inadequate in administration settings.

Purpose of the proposed study

Driven by the quest to expound on the notion of the significance of social workers’ education in the administration or managerial settings in the non-profit social/human agencies, this study evaluates several issues associated with this concept. The proposed research study will focus on the competencies and professional management skills that a social work administrator requires to offer effective planning, controlling, leadership, and organizational services. The study bases its analysis on the context of non-profit/human agencies where the principal mission and intent of such organizations is to offer humanitarian support and not commercial profit-based services. Providing humanitarian support to the vulnerable groups, the marginalized, and the oppressed requires ethical leadership and endurance, especially in human agencies where the provision of human services, ensuring social justice, enhancing human relationships, integrity, and competence are essentials. This study will examine specific ethical developments that will clarify the principles of administration in the social realm and essential leadership strategies among social workers.

Literature review

Chapter overview

This section of the study will aim at reviewing the literature on the perception of the influence of social workers’ educational background on their administrations’ work in the context of non-profit organizations. The section summarizes previous studies related to this concept, identifies gaps in the prevailing literature, and provides the theoretical basis of the proposed study.

Challenges social workers (administrators) encounter

Living in a world prone to the proliferation of cases of societal inequalities with numbers of abused children, exploited humans, neglected individuals, vulnerable persons, and the marginalized, this problem cannot be underrated (Birdsell & Muzzio, 2003). The world is still struggling with social prejudice among certain social groups and the need to understand the means through which social workers deem imperative in enhancing social justice and providing social support is essential. Approximately, 400 million children across the world are living in destitution, 300 million have experienced harsh punishments, over 150 million girls have once suffered sexual abuse, and over 115 million children suffer from child labor (Wuenschel, 2006). Problems of this magnitude require consideration and they should provoke a powerful response from the concerned social workers. Statistics reveal that social work remains one of the most unappreciated professions (Wuenschel, 2006). Coupled with constrained support offered to the social welfare workforce, the need to have a competent social workforce driven by strong education to counter the situations is increasingly becoming an important issue.

Governments across the world, and even in the western nations where social justice has been a major concern and public discourse for decades, undermine the social work profession, and thus they give little attention to the industry itself (Jaskyte, 2004). Given the excuse of the 2008/2009 financial crisis, many western governments withdrew their support to the social service industry and when independent organizations took over, the quest to improve humanitarian services puts social administrators into dilemmas (Wuenschel, 2006). While independent organizations willingly provide resources including finance to support humanitarian agencies in providing social services, they in return have different expectations that put administrators in administrative quandaries. When ineffective, “clients may prefer competing organizations and foundations might limit or stop providing resources, thus potentially threatening organizational viability and vitality” (Jaskyte, 2004, p.26). The entire responsibility of ensuring that humanitarian aid donors and financers remain contented and workers remain motivated in achieving the social service mission as well is a situation that calls for appropriate decision-making.

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Controlling, managing, and directing the social service workforce, which normally undergoes incessant workplace challenges, is a predicament that social service administration encounters (Wuenschel, 2006). Whilst job satisfaction and employee commitment are two inseparable issues that administrators can barely underestimate, the issue in the context of social service is even more demanding than in any other organization (Hardina & Montana, 2011). The perceptions that leadership is always critical in ensuring employee retention through employee empowerment, which further enhances job satisfaction and commitment, remain true and research continues to provide substantial evidence to support the same (Hardina & Montana, 2011). Dealing with social workers who sometimes experience local prejudice, societal contempt, and deal with enormous challenges in providing humanitarian support is a problem that social administrators should handle in their line of duty. Instilling cooperation, promoting team building, assessing employee impact, and encouraging staff, especially those engaged in challenging assignments, is the responsibility of administrators that comes with unique challenges (Wuenschel, 2006). Above all, social work administrators receive criticism from the public about their profession and the need to remain competent in delivering humanitarian support is upon them.

Social welfare and social education

Notwithstanding the imperativeness of education in enhancing ethical decision-making, planning, controlling, and other organizational services among the social workforce leaders, the essence of this concept remains undermined. Professional education possesses significant influence in the professional development of social workers where social work skills assist the social workforce in effective decision-making and in undertaking other managerial activities (Jaskyte, 2004). Whilst the social workforce is viewed as an important facet in delivering social and humanitarian support, social work administration since its history, continues to draw considerable attention and remarks concerning the relevance of social work education in management practices (Thompson, Manefee, & Marley, 1999). Researchers have pointed out that whilst there may be enough degrees amongst social workers, the rapidly changing global dynamics in social services is becoming the foremost challenge. Moreover, the rapid growth of the social service industry with enormous transformations enhances the need for the social work profession to produce proficient administrators capable of managing the social service industry effectively.

Empowerment in the social work realm can occur amongst workers and employers, clients and workers, and through actions of the social work, organizations enhance human relationships (Hardina & Montana, 2011). Education empowerment within social organizations is one of the most yearned achievements and it acts as an impetus tool that promotes wellbeing and motivation among workers. Education enhances the abilities of social workers to engage in more challenging tasks including critical decision-making in the administrative settings where most administrators normally feel challenged (Hardina & Montana, 2011). Working in non-profit organizations seeking to offer humanitarian support to the unfortunate is a confronting task to the social work professionals and endurance may only require intrinsic understanding (Wuenschel, 2006). It may appear as a challenge for individuals with little education to overcome pressures that come with providing humanitarian support where challenging workplace conditions are a norm (Jaskyte, 2004). Social work administration and its management activities require even more educational proficiency than the junior workforce does.

As the social service industry in western nations continues to experience tremendous changes and growth that requires professional dexterity, studies have started evaluating the influence of social education in modern social work organizations. In a recent study, Hardina and Montana (2011) examined staff education as an empowerment aspect that influences organizational administration. In examining whether the theories and management approaches used by social service administrators are in line with contemporary demands of the social service profession, Hardina and Montana (2011) collected data from the upper-level administrators within the non-profit service organizations. The majority of the administrators engaged in the study cited that participation in empowerment-based management activities including learning and development increases job satisfaction, promotes team building and collaboration, and enhances ethical decision-making that subsequently influences managers’ performances (Hardina & Montana, 2011). As social services deal with social workers mostly involving challenged and frustrated workforce and such participation in education as empowerment-based management activities help administrators to encourage workers.

Social education is deemed inappropriate and undervalued

Although provided in many higher institutions after receiving substantial attention in the 1970s and emerging as a curriculum necessity, ascertaining the imperativeness of social education especially in the challenging social work profession remains an imperative question (Wuenschel, 2006). There has been endless commentary and arguments over the effectiveness of the social education provided by institutions, especially in the context of its ability to provide competent administrators to human agencies (Nesoff, 2007). Debates are rising on whether the prevailing social work education programs, the training services provided, and the learning offered to meet the modern demands of the social service industry (Nesoff, 2007). Moreover, research in the US indicates that despite the presence of education solely designed for dealing with social welfare, most prevailing social workers are those trained originally as direct service practitioners since the inception of social service (Whitaker & Arrington, 2008). In a recent study, the US NASW surveyed to examine the perceptions of social workers on professional development, which produced shocking revelations.

The study employed a one-month online survey that involved participants from the NASW workforce who volunteered to participate in the study through a random selection method (Whitaker & Arrington, 2008). When asked which areas of social work each would wish to pursue further education, a majority of the participants (51%) indicated that they would undertake clinical practice, 31% were interested in the specialty practice area, 30% claimed to have an interest in best practices (Whitaker & Arrington, 2008). Surprisingly, the least 26% wished to pursue disaster preparedness and trauma management. This analysis depicts that the interest in social service itself is dwindling amongst social workers, learners, and a shift in professional interest is indicative that the real meaning of social education remains challenged. When questioned whether they had access to social work continuing education programs, 58% indicated that they were ‘somewhat’ accessible and another small percentage (37%) indicated that they hardly have trouble in accessing training programs (Whitaker & Arrington, 2008), which still indicated dwindling concern on social education.

A further investigation on the perception of learners on the importance of social work professional development through education revealed much to anticipate. According to the study, Whitaker and Arrington (2008) questioned whether professional development is necessary for continued employment. From the investigation, 48% of the respondents pointed out that professional development deems necessary for continued employment, whilst 37% of them argued that professional development is not a requirement and not required by their employers (Whitaker & Arrington, 2008). On the same note, two-thirds (66%) of the participants claimed that professional development is imperative for their job advancement, while 34% believed their engagement in professional development activities and other additional social work training was unimportant for advancement in the social work profession. This trend is still indicative that the importance of education and professional development across the United States’ social work profession is undervalued (Whitaker & Arrington, 2008). Repeatedly observed in many studies, apart from losing significance, the education itself may not prove competent.

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A deeper insight into the failed social administration education has been on several types of research and it presents even a unique perception on the entire problem. As the nonprofit management losses its initial value at a steady pace following intensified profit-based businesses, education on non-profit management also remains affected (Hoefer, 2003). Trends indicate that institutions are currently competing for learners to undertake social work education as the majority of the modern learners are opting to work for commercial organizations that provide better workplace conditions and remunerations (Wuenschel, 2006). Although thought to have an important impact on managerial skills, there is significant evidence that even though the prevailing Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) degrees provide appropriate management skills, they provide minimal coverage on major social administration profession (Wuenschel, 2006). Thought to the among the highest educational ranks that provide important management skills, modern MBA curriculum seem to concentrate much on commercial aspects of business management, hence little attention prevails on building social service management skills.

A conceptual framework for the study

In examining the social workers’ educational background contributions to their administration work setting in the non-profit social/human agencies, it is important to evaluate the connection of the study variable. Effective management is evident through the manager’s ability to remain competitive in managerial skills including planning, organization, building and managing employee relations, effectual communication, and negotiation, financial budgeting, and recruitment among others. In undertaking this investigation, the following conceptual framework demonstrates such connections.

A conceptual framework for the study

Research objectives

In examining the aforementioned problem, the study will follow the following research objectives to enrich the conclusion on the purpose.

  1. To highlight the competencies and qualifications of social workers’ administrative abilities and skill
  2. To identify the social work education gaps in the administration domain.
  3. To examine the implications of low education levels in the capabilities of administrators to handle important social work management issues effectively

Methodology of the study

Chapter overview

This chapter of the research will carry the research methodology that entails all the processes and strategies that the study will employ in undertaking the primary research. It will include the intended research design, data collection techniques, sampling design, description of the proposed sample, ethical considerations, data collection instruments and processes, reliability and validity, and data analysis.

Research design

The study will employ a case study research design in examining social workers’ educational background contributions on their administrations in a work setting in the non-profit social/human agencies. Rowley (2002) asserts that case studies deal with a single organization that represents several other organizations, and thus the study will confine its investigations and findings solely to the KASW (Kentucky Association of Social Workers). The study will be a mixed case study approach, “in which both qualitative and quantitative research approaches will be essential in the analysis of the problem involved” (Graff, 2009, p.73). Mixed research methodology is a contemporary research methodology where the researcher combines both qualitative and quantitative research techniques in analyzing a single problem (Rowley, 2002). Its central premise is that the use of “quantitative and qualitative approaches in combination provides a better understanding of research problems than either approach alone and as a methodology, it provides guidance in the collection and analysis of data through a mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches throughout the research process” (Creswell, 2006, p.68).

Data collection techniques

Data collection techniques in research define all the processes of collecting reliable and valid data from the participants in a bid to identify facts concerning the inquiry or problem of the study (Johnson, Onwuegbuzie & Turner, 2007). Based on the initial definition of the mixed research method, the approach entails both collecting and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data. Qualitative research methodology usually gathers descriptive information or closed-ended information with the intent of measuring relationships among variables (Creswell, 2006). Quantitative data contains quantifiable information that deals with variables that are measurable statistically in terms of quantities (Rowley, 2002). Percentages will be useful in collecting quantitative data. The nature of qualitative research is a rigorous and systematic form of inquiry that mainly uses ethnographic observations, interviews, and survey sheets as data collection tools (Baxter & Jack, 2001). Since qualitative data provides open-ended information that researchers can interpret, it will provide a comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon as the respondents will freely express their ideas in explanation form.

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Target population, sampling design & Sample size

For the target population, this study targets the social workers solely from KASW, which is the organization that is chosen and willing to participate in the study and is one of the most renowned non-profit agencies in Lexington, Kentucky. According to Kelly, Clark, Brown, and Sitzia (2003), it may seem impractical and somewhat uneconomical to gather research information from every single person in a huge population, which explains why sampling is essential. Since the mixed study methodology involves quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques that involve collecting open-ended and closed-ended data collection techniques, purposeful sampling will be appropriate in this study (Creswell, 2006). The study will use purposeful sampling that will target Social workers with a higher learning degree with administrators and employees selected through purposive sampling technique. Through web-based interviews, the study will prefer employing online email surveys on the purposefully selected participants that will include approximately 126 respondents. The study will liaise with the administrators to help in identifying interested participants and in collecting respondents’ email addresses.

Data collection instruments and processes

Data collection instruments are tools used by researchers in collecting information about the inquiry from the participants (Rattray & Jones, 2007). As it is thought to be the most convenient, easy to understand, administer to respondents, and easy to analyze, the study will aim at employing web questionnaires in collecting data (Benfield & Szlemko, 2006). In their study, Evans and Mathur (2005) found that the “online questionnaire had a higher response rate, faster responses, and lower costs; and the quality of data was similar” (p.203). Self-designed questionnaires of approximately 12 questions qualitative and quantitatively designed (open-ended and closed-ended) will be useful in collecting data from participants. Evans and Mathur (2005) claim that online questionnaires are convenient and flexible interview materials, as they encompass no interviewer bias, are significant for a large sample, have less respondent time pressure, possible anonymity of respondents, enhance the confidentiality of information given, and can contain various questions. Since educational background among workers requires confidentially, online questionnaires will be most appropriate for this research.

The procedure for collecting primary data is one of the fundamental issues in any form of research, and this study understands the requisites of the process (Rattray & Jones, 2007). The initial phase of the study will examine the validity of the questionnaire through piloting where the involvement of non-study participants from a different organization will aid in examining content validity. The researcher will then liaise with the management of KASW in person to seek permission to engage its employees in the study to avoid breaching the organization’s rules and regulations among other ethical issues. In a bid to confirm respondents’ participation, the researcher will send email invitations to the interested participants to verify their participation, read the research regulations, and confirm their contacts. The study will employ approximately 126 self-designed questionnaires through the email addresses collected from the willing participants. Being a one-month data gathering process, personal phone contacts will be essential in assessing progress with constant communication enabling contact and instant feedback between the researcher and the participant.

Ethical considerations

Scientific studies and even other forms of research studies that involve human participants and ethical standards of research normally count on the outcome and overall perception of the study itself. All organizations have their regulations and thus researchers should recognize and appreciate the will of volunteering participants, which is possible through considering relevant ethical study issues. The American research rules stipulate that in online researches, distributing unsolicited or harvesting e-mail addresses from uninterested participants violates ethical research standards. Without coercion, participants will have a chance to confirm their participation and agree on the terms of the research. Apart from their willingness to participate in the study, the research will peruse through the relevant organizational regulations and seek the consent of the management to engage its employees in the study. Respondents may hesitate to participate in the study due to fear to reveal some confidential information. The study will ensure the confidentiality of the participant’s information, whether personal or related to research.

Reliability and validity

A research study will deem inessential and ineffectual if the validity or credibility and reliability issues of the information and research outcomes remain undermined (Onwuegbuzie & Johnson, 2006). There are three forms of validity in the mixed case research method, which are common amongst researchers and they include construct validity, external validity, and internal validity (Rowley, 2002). Poor validity approaches have the potential of affecting the major portions of the study and as well ruining the central intent of the study (Rattray & Jones, 2007). Construct validity involves a quality assessment approach aimed at examining the legitimacy of data instruments, data collection procedures, and data analysis (Rowley, 2002). In guaranteeing construct validity, the study will ensure discussion of the questionnaire with the involved lecturers, experienced research informants, and other seasoned researchers to eliminate errors, refine wording, and improve the content. Moreover, in ensuring construct validity, the researcher will use multiple sources of evidence in the development of data instruments and during the data collection process.

A pilot survey involving non-participants of the study will help in determining whether the questionnaires need amendments. Participants from a non-participating organization on the actual study will respond to the designed questionnaires, after which the researcher will examine the responses and amend the contradiction in the questionnaires. This approach, according to Kelly et al (2003), enables researchers to identify whether the respondents understood the questions and instructions from a similar dimension. Internal and external validity is another research legitimacy issue that determines the entire soundness of the research outcome (Onwuegbuzie & Johnson, 2006). Internal validity involves the relationship between variables and observed changes in both dependent and independent variables. In a bid to ensure that the study remains internally legitimate, Rowley (2002) recommends undertaking pattern matching, time series analysis, and comprehensive explanation. Reliability is the stability and internal consistency of the data instruments (Taylor & Asmundson, 2007). In ensuring the reliability of the data, the study will employ test-retest and inter-observer techniques. Questionnaires after piloting will go through inter-observer correlation and Cronbach statistics of an estimated 1.0 value.

Data analysis

Data analysis is among the finalizing and probably the integral phases of research study, and this study recognizes its importance. Mixed research methodology is capable of using several scientific analysis approaches that enable effective investigation of the research inquiry (Creswell, 2006). The Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS version 21) will be useful in the data analysis exercise. Descriptive data for the independent variables will give a concise view of the participants. Factor analysis of the leaker-scale data will bring out the strength of the opinions of the various responses. Thereafter, a Pearson’s correlation analysis will seek to investigate the existence of a relationship between the dependent and the independent variables. The correlations would seek to measure if social workers’ perceptions on the management of professional institutions were dependent on the age, gender, educational degree, years of experience, or the current position of the respondents. Qualitative and quantitative analysis approaches will complement each other throughout the study.


Expected findings

The notion of correlation between education and professional expertise continues to form part of the social worker realm. The study anticipates that there would be a great correlation between the independent variable (educational background of the social workers) and the dependent variables (administrative responsibilities and related administration effectiveness). The study expects the final research outcome to indicate probably a positive correlation between educational proficiency and administrative abilities, where higher levels of education should indicate great expertise among participants. As existing evidence indicates considerably low interest in the social work administrative skills and little approach towards professional development among employees, and the outcome should indicate results relative to such assumptions. This assertion holds for the study will use one of the renowned organizations KASW, which is familiar with the concept underlying professional development among social workers in Lexington, Kentucky. The study assumes that all the participants of the study are conversant with the issue and will probably provide relevant information that will lead to a relevant conclusion about the inquiry.

Although there may be the probability of concluding positively on the expectations of the study, this research expects challenges from participants as they may feel inferior in providing confidential data about their professional development, especially the educational background. The study anticipates that the respondents will manage to identify the ineffectiveness of their education in the professional context and present possible areas that they deem education has failed. In the context of learning and professional development, the participants are likely to indicate low or even no professional development and possibly connect it with the motivation aspect in their organization. The researcher anticipates that the outcome of the study will depict the situation as it is currently in the U.S and that the participants (social employees) will be in a position to comprehend the possible effects of low levels of education and low professional development. They should possibly analyze their educational degrees especially those obtained from higher institutions and the possible ambiguities involved in them.

Application to practice and Implication for future practice

Professional development involves education as one of its integral aspects and as statistics continue to indicate that the interest of social workers in the actual social work is dwindling relative to the diminished interest in its education, much remains to anticipate. The results of this investigation will possibly improve the perception of the involved participants in professional development and especially educational proficiency. Learners of social work may also have an opportunity to view the issue of social work and its professional challenges from a different perspective. The results of this study may implicate research in several ways. Whilst the study may advocate for higher education and its improvement, there is currently the issue of unemployment and organizational ranks are still minimal. Whereas the study intends to enhance the perception of education on professional development, changes in the systems of acquiring education may have a different perception on education in the future, since the world is changing rapidly, hence receiving criticism in the future.

Weaknesses and limitations of the proposed study

Online research on organizational employees committed to their personal and professional development among other socioeconomic issues may hamper the effectiveness of the study. The validity of data collected in research continues to be a problem (Graff, 2009). The study expects to meet participants who are genuine in their responses and provide legitimate information that will be valid and applicable to the study. Nonetheless, due to their occupational commitments and time limits on their side, they may offer little attention to the research. Since the online survey will involve questionnaires administered through email addresses and websites to the clients without proper supervision, participants may not offer accurate information as compared to when the study involves personal administration of the data collection tools. Unemployment has become a constant problem and employers are ensuring maximum respect and protection of their positions. Although guaranteed confidentiality of the information, participants may be hesitant in providing information that directly involves their organizational affairs.

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