Slim pickings found in social work


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UI social-work major Anna Schwenker loves giving children the opportunity to learn musical instruments.

The music-minor counsels youth through music and other programs as a part of her practicum.

Today social-work students will have a chance to explore practicum opportunities like Schwenker’s at the annual UI Social Work Practicum Fair. Roughly 20 local social-work agencies plan to set up booths for the event at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.

Recently, some social-work agencies have been offering fewer jobs because of funding cuts, said Kristie Doser, the executive director of the Domestic Violence Intervention Program.

But she added agencies are more likely to hire students who already have good training. The violence-intervention program will have a booth at the fair.

“A practicum is a great way to get a foot in the door,” she said. Violence-intervention program officials are more likely to hire students who trained with them during practicum, she said.

Doser noted students have helped the program maintain its level of service during hard economic times. Students often help facilitate support groups for victims of violence and help victims find therapeutic services.

Stephen Trefz, the executive director of the Mid-Eastern Iowa Community Mental Health Center, agreed job opportunities for social-work students may be scarce in the next six months because of cuts in government funding.

But the community need for social-work services will likely increase over the next five years because of the economy, causing more jobs to become available, he said.

Trefz said advanced practicum students at the Mental Health Center often gather information about new clients at their first appointments, and the Health Center also often hires practicum students.

UI alumna Rachel Carter now works as a community-development specialist at the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program, where she completed a practicum during the 2008-09 school year.

“It’s the experience that gets you the job,” she said.

She said though the economic recession has affected the social-work job market, government stimulus money has helped fund some agencies, allowing more positions to remain available.

Beth Ritter Ruback, the director of communication development at the Crisis Center of Johnson County, said the center has had a booth at the practicum fair every year for roughly 15 years.

Ritter Ruback said past practicum students helped improve training for volunteers who answer the 24-hour crisis line at the center.

She said the organization benefits from the new ideas and up-to-date information students often possess.

“They bring enthusiasm, which is always a great boost,” Ritter Ruback said.

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