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Becoming a Social or Community Worker: What You Need to Know

Jacqueline Coombe is a freelance writer specialising in business development, marketing, and career development content.

These days, more people than ever are looking for a career that has meaning; one that doesn’t just pay the bills, but gives them a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction as well. And community service is one such profession, offering roles that can be highly challenging, but also extremely rewarding.

Social and community workers provide support to people in need across a wide range of areas from emergency assistance to counselling, health care, child care and aged care. So if you’re considering a career in community services, be sure to read this guide and keep these tips in mind.

Reasons to become a social or community worker

A career in community services is right for you if you want a job that:

  • You’ll love - if you enjoy making a real difference and helping others in their time of need, community service is the kind of job that will get you out of bed every morning.
  • Is future proof – community service workers are now in high demand and with an ageing population and a widening gap between the have’s and the have not’s, that demand is likely to increase exponentially over time.
  • Is infinitely diverse – community service offers a huge range of diverse career paths and the opportunity to specialise in anything from youth work to drug and alcohol counselling.
  • Makes the most of your talents – if you have good people skills and genuine empathy for others, these are the primary requirements for a career in community services.
  • Allows you to give back – if you enter this field because of a personal experience in your own life, a community services career is a great way to give back by helping others.
  • Makes a real difference – community service is one of the few careers where you can make a real difference in the quality of people’s lives, not just once, but every single day.

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Some things to be aware of

While there are lots of good reasons to consider a career in community services, it pays to enter such a field with your eyes open. As with any job, there are a few realities that, while not necessarily negatives, are worth being aware of when weighing up the pros and cons.

  • It won’t happen overnight – while you’ll want to start having an immediate impact on improving peoples’ lives and finding ways to make the system better for everyone, real change can take time and you’ll need to have plenty of patience and perseverance.
  • You can’t fix everything – while it’s great to be passionate about what you’re doing, you also need to be aware that you won’t be able to solve every problem you encounter. Rather than trying to fix everything yourself, at the end of the day, your job is to equip people with the skills to bring about change in their own lives.
  • The money’s not great – you’re not going to get rich working in community services. While it’s not the worst paid profession, it’s not the best paid either, considering the nature of the work and the long hours involved. The SCHADS Award covers many employees in the social and community services sector.
  • You’ll have to make tough decisions – the role often involves making difficult decisions that will directly impact peoples’ lives. You’ll need to learn how to make safe, well-informed decisions that are always in the best interests of your clients.
  • Burnout can be a problem - due to the amount of time and emotional energy you’ll invest in your job, burnout is a very real possibility over time. So it’s acceptable (and encouraged) to take breaks when you need them, whether it’s time off, a holiday or a longer sabbatical.

It’s not a nine-to-five job

Because you’re dealing with people’s lives, you may find it hard to leave your work at the door every night. If you find yourself becoming too emotionally involved or trying to do what the resources you are allocated won’t allow, you’ll need to develop strategies for ‘clocking off’ at the end of the day, just for your own emotional wellbeing.

Hopefully, the positives of becoming a social or community worker will outweigh the few potential challenges highlighted here. They certainly shouldn’t put you off a career in community services, because knowledge is power and if you are aware of what’s likely to happen beforehand, you’ll be better equipped to handle it if and when it does.

And if you ask most social and community workers, they’ll tell you that the rewards of their job far outweigh the setbacks. And that’s because the feeling of knowing you’ve helped thousands of people to improve their lives is something that no ordinary job can deliver.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 jacquicoombe

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