Human Services Workers
Education and Training Requirements
Some employers hire people with only a high school education, but these employees might find it hard to move beyond clerical positions. Interested high school students should plan to attend a college or university and should take classes in English, mathematics, political science, psychology, and sociology. Learning a foreign language will come in handy if you are assigned to work with people who do not speak English at all or fluently.
Certificate and associate's degree programs in human services, gerontology, or one of the social or behavioral sciences are offered at community and junior colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and other postsecondary institutions. It is also possible to pursue a bachelor's degree in human services or a related field, such as social work, counseling, or rehabilitation. There are numerous bachelor's and master's programs in human services that have been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education; academic programs such as these prepare students for occupations in the human services. Because the educators at these colleges and universities stay in regular contact with the social work employers in their area, the programs are continually revised to meet the changing needs of the field. Students are exposed early and often to the kinds of situations they may encounter on the job.
Undergraduate and graduate programs typically include courses in psychology, sociology, crisis intervention, family dynamics, therapeutic interviewing, rehabilitation, and gerontology.
Other Education or Training
The National Association of Social Workers, American Counseling Association, and other organizations offer online courses, webinars, and other continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
The National Organization for Human Services, in collaboration with the Council for Standards in Human Services Education and the Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE), offers the human services board certified practitioner designation to applicants who meet educational requirements and pass an examination. Contact the CCE (http://www.cce-global.org/hsbcp) for more information.
Certification or licensing may be required for some human services positions, such as social worker. These requirements vary by state. Contact your state’s department of licensing for more information about requirements in your state.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Human services workers must have experience handling a variety of problems that may beset their clients. This requires the ability to listen to their clients' needs and to communicate with compassion. Human service workers require excellent time-management skills to deal with many clients who may require different kinds of support. They are generally expected to work some nights and weekends—to be on call whenever a crisis arises.
Many people perform human services work because they want to make a difference in their community. They may also like connecting on a personal level with other people, offering them emotional support, helping them sort out problems, and teaching them how to care for themselves and their families. A genuine interest in the lives and concerns of others and sensitivity to their situations are important to a human services worker. An artistic background can also be valuable in human services. Some programs in mental health facilities, domestic violence shelters, and other group homes use art therapy. Painting, music, dance, and creative writing are sometimes incorporated into counseling sessions, providing a client with alternative modes of expression.
In addition to the rewarding aspects of the job, a human services worker must be prepared to take on difficult responsibilities. The work can be very stressful. The problems of some populations—such as prison inmates, battered women and children, substance abusers, and the poor—can seem insurmountable. Their stories and day-to-day lives can seem tragic. Even if human services workers are not counseling clients, they are working directly with clients on some level. Just helping a person fill out an application or prepare a household budget requires a good disposition and the ability to be supportive. Clients may not welcome help and may not even care about their own well-being. In these cases, a human services worker must remain firm but supportive and encouraging. Patience is very important, whatever the area of human service.