Community workers (also known as community development workers) help people who are marginalised to tackle the problems that face their local area. They sometimes work with communities as a whole, but they may also focus on specific groups, such as women or refugees. An important part of their role is to represent the voices and needs of target groups and disadvantaged communities to policymakers at local and national level.
Work tends to be team-based, and community workers will work closely with other organisations such as the police, social workers, schools, probation officers and other agencies. Typical responsibilities include:
- working with community groups to explore their needs and abilities, and to agree on solutions
- providing projects to support sections of the community with issues such as mental health or drug use
- helping communities to share knowledge and resources effectively
- setting up new services
- raising public awareness about important issues
- assessing the different needs of a community and setting up resources to meet them
- recruiting and training paid and voluntary staff
- attending meetings and presenting verbal and written reports
- managing finance and payroll
- making funding applications.
The job of a community worker can require regular unsocial hours, including evenings and weekends. Community workers operate mainly in disadvantaged communities within inner-city areas, rural areas and small towns. Local travel can be a regular feature of the job.
- Local authorities
- Charities and not-for-profit organisations
- Local urban and rural development groups
- Organisations concerned with particular groups (such as young people, refugees or asylum seekers) or issues (such as unemployment, migrant rights or drugs)
Jobs are advertised on social media and community and issues-focused websites. Local authorities will advertise jobs on their websites, as will larger charities. Before you can be offered a job, you'll need to undergo a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check.
Career development in community work can be limited as promotion usually depends on staffing levels. Many people make lateral moves to work on new projects where they can see that their skills will make an impact.
Entry into the profession is possible for both university graduates and school leavers. You don't need a recognised qualification in community development work, but having a degree in any subject it may help with career progression. Experience is more important, however: try to get involved in community-based volunteer work while you're studying to build skills, contacts and confidence.
As a community worker, you'll need to be able to relate to people from a wide range of backgrounds and to engage with target groups. Other skills include:
- an in-depth understanding of policies that affect target groups
- excellent written and oral communication skills, including report writing
- commitment and enthusiasm
- good leadership, motivational and organisational skills
- the ability to work both on your own and in a team
- sincerity, patience, tact and the ability to earn the trust of others
- excellent listening skills and confidence in talking to people both in groups and on a one-to-one basis.