Course Contemplation: Social service worker program: Regular versus fast track

The social service worker program is a generalist program that covers a lifespan of individuals. It is most suitable for people who are devoted to helping others wherever and whenever they need help.

Just like the profession, it is a highly regulated program at Fanshawe. It is offered as a fast track option for university graduates or as a regular program. While both are diploma programs, the difference is in the offerings and the duration.

The regular program is two years long spanning four semesters in total with 600 hours of unpaid field placement. Fast track, on the other hand, takes 10 months spanning three semesters, with about 500 hours.

“How the fast track is different is that it’s more of a niche program, which was initially created for university graduates who have a psychology or a sociology background and who are looking into skills and experience to work in the field of social service,” said Robert Owens, the program co-ordinator of both social service worker and human services foundation programs at Fanshawe.

There are also notable similarities and overlap in the courses offered in the regular and fast track options. According to Owens, students in fast track program are granted credits for some introductory courses because of their university degrees and previous education experience in a bid to reduce some of their workloads.

For a program that produced its first set of graduates in 2001, the intake has been quite significant from about 20 students at the inception of the program to 50 currently. Owen attributed the increasing interest in the program to university graduates who encountered difficulty in getting a job because of the demanding skills in the job market.

Aside from the typical fall intake, the regular program now has a winter intake with a break in August. The fast track program however only has the September intake and has no break between semesters due to its short duration.

“We are pretty standard in how we operate,” Owens said. “In the fast track program, most of the courses are primarily in one section but there are a couple of courses such as counselling or group dynamics that we broke into smaller working groups, usually in two sections. In the regular program, we actually have two sections and the sections get broken down into two making four sections.”

Graduates from the social services program are immediately eligible to register with the Ontario College of Social Worker and Social Service Worker (OCSWSSW). OCSWSSW is the only regulatory body in the province and the title is regulated to protect the most vulnerable population whom social services workers work with. Other provinces have their own regulatory colleges.

“Social Service Worker Graduate Association (SSWGA), Canadian Association of Social Worker (CASW) and Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) are some of the professional development bodies for members to network and share experiences,” Owens said.

Social service is a grassroots profession with abundant job opportunities.

According to Owens, the profession caters to a large age range from children to seniors. They work in community correction, mental health facilities, residential treatment programs, other residential programs, homeless shelters, shelters for domestic violence, community organizations all across Canada, Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Club, among others.

On employment rate, about 80 to 85 per cent graduates from the program get a job within the first six months of graduating, which is three to five per cent higher than the provincial average. Owens also mentioned that graduates can establish organizations with funding from the government.

“We don’t teach the business aspect but we teach the proposal writing on how to get some funding dollars. We usually encourage students to look into other administrative programs such as business management if they plan to run their own organizations.”

Some notable achievements of the program include focussing on individual families, groups, community organization and development, non-governmental organizations on housing projects and connecting to conversation circles with international services. These have helped the students, especially in counselling, to understand multiculturalism.

“[The] social service worker program can be difficult for some students but our biggest encouragement is about communication. Good communication skills are extremely important. The ability to fully listen and track what people are talking about and being able to give it back to them is one of the main skills required and that’s what counselling is all about,” Owens said. “Communication is embedded in everything we do on the field.”