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Getting started in your career

In formal terms, a community worker is a qualified professional who has the knowledge, skills and values to work in an agency or program intended to facilitate or ensure the social inclusion and economic participation of individuals, families, groups or communities.
Put simply, community workers empower and support their clients to maximise their potential and achieve their goals. Promoting and advocating for social justice is the cornerstone of community work.

In practice, community workers provide services, support, activities, information and referral for those in need of assistance. They do this by linking people with appropriate services, government departments, groups, communities and each other.

ACWA's Careers in Community Work information sheet is a short downloadable version of the basics of the profession, including the need-to-know career pathways, and is ideal for distributing to those considering this worthwhile career.

Like any profession, community work is made up of a range of specific occupations. The following is a list of common occupational titles and positions held by practitioners. The list is by no means exhaustive.

Common occupational titles of community workers
Aged Care Worker
Juvenile Justice Officer
Child Protection Practitioner
Men's Health Officer
Community Development Officer
Multicultural Support Officer
Community Educator
Outreach Worker
Crisis Intervention Worker
Parole or Probation Officer
Disability Care Worker
Personal Care Worker
Drug and Alcohol Worker
Residential Care Worker
Emergency Relief Worker
Social Worker
Counsellor - Trauma, Student, Rehabilitation etc Support Worker - Aged Care, Disability, Community etc
Counsellor - Financial, Careers etc Volunteer Manager
Housing Officer
Welfare Officer/Worker
Intake and Assessments Officer
Youth Worker

Job prospects

There’s no doubt working in community services offers a rewarding career to those passionate about working with people or bringing about change. It is also a thriving sector with a clear and increasing demand for workers. But there are also other appealing qualities and high on this list is how varied the work can be.

Community workers normally undertake qualifications that provide a mix of theory and practice skills vital for work across a range service fields. Qualifications like the Diploma or Bachelor in Community Services may seem broad but they have been designed with purpose.

First and foremost, they provide workers with the ability to assist clients (whether individuals or groups) that have complex and co-existing issues. For example, a youth worker may be faced with a client with drug issues whose parents have asked them to leave the home due to their continued drug taking. Assisting this client will require youth specific skills but also knowledge, coordination and referral among the AOD and homelessness support fields.

The big advantage for practitioners is that learning transferrable skills affords you the flexibility to move around the sector to new settings if you start to get restless. Of course, if you have a clear picture of your career in mind you can certainly undertake a specialised course right away or study one post-graduation.

Service fields within the community sector include aged care, child protection, disability services, multicultural support, asylum seeker and refugee services, mental health, child and family services, counselling, emergency relief, youth, justice, housing and community development.

There is no limit to where practitioners can work. Most choose not-for-profit organisations as they make up a large proportion of the organisations offering welfare services. However, some workers prefer government departments or for-profit community sector organisations for slightly more assured job security.

Employability

Community work is a self-regulated profession which means practitioners do not need a licence to practice in the sector, however, they can choose to register with us; ACWA is the relevant professional association and holder of the national register of community workers. Registering with a professional body can increase a worker’s employability and, in some cases, may be a requirement for employment.

Checks and balances are in place to protect vulnerable clients and this means most practitioners will be expected to undergo mandatory pre-employment screening during recruitment. National police checks and working with children/vulnerable people checks are commonplace examples.

If you have a criminal history you may have fewer employment options but will not be excluded entirely from the sector. Organisations will look at factors such as the nature of the offence, how recent the criminal history is and whether it would be relevant to the position (i.e. convictions related to misusing money are likely to render it impossible to find work in jobs involving money handling). Workers who fail a working with children check will be barred from certain roles without the possibility of discretion.

At ACWA, we aim to ensure that all community workers are of good standing and well prepared for employment. We do this by working with training providers to ensure that quality courses are available to those who wish to work in the industry. Obtaining an ACWA accredited qualification is one way of ensuring you are workforce ready and employable; it is also one of the pathways to membership.

When applying for a job, applicants with a good qualification and previous experience will find this goes a long way, as will holding membership of a professional association.

Increasingly, membership or eligibility for membership of a professional association is becoming an industry standard recruitment criterion for state and local government and not-for-profit organisations. In community services, this is especially true for certain practice fields like child protection.

This is because when we assess membership applications we conduct a number of checks to ensure qualifications meet minimum industry standards, and that applicants have the relevant skills and experience. These are also the qualifications, skills and experience that employers are seeking in new staff.

ACWA also takes standards of behaviour very seriously and expects its members to adhere to a code of ethics, meet the professional standards and undertake continuing professional development each year to ensure they have the most up to date information. All of these requirements make you more employable.

If you are interested in becoming an ACWA member and increasing your employability please read the eligibility requirements: We would love to have you on board.

Some of the many large employers in the community services sector who make this a condition of employment are listed below:
  • The Department of Health & Human Services in Victoria (Student placement program) - only provides VET-level work experience placements for students from ACWA accredited courses
  • The Department of Health & Human Services in Victoria (Child Protection Program) - requires applicants for child practitioner roles to possess, as a minimum standard, completion of an appropriate ACWA accredited qualification
  • Northern Territory Office of Children and Families - requires eligibility for ACWA membership as an essential selection criteria for community welfare workers as well as other occupations
  • Department of Health in Western Australia - requires a relevant qualification and/or eligibility for membership as an essential minimum requirement for the position of welfare officer
  • Queensland Health - requires ACWA eligibility for membership as an essential selection criteria for a range of occupations
To learn more about what qualification with help you land the job you want, visit our page on choosing the right course.


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