Australian Community Workers Association Australian Community Workers Association

Career pathways

There are many career paths available to aspiring community workers, with qualifications ranging from diplomas to masters degrees.

Community work is a skilled profession, so you do need a qualification.

Community workers benefit most from a course of study that provides a mix of theory and practical experience necessary for work across a range of service fields such as family and children’s services, child protection, family violence, alcohol and other drugs, youth work, community development, and juvenile justice.

The Diploma of Community Services, Bachelor in Community Services or similar will offer you a good generic qualification with which to enter the profession. The big advantage is that these courses offer a solid foundation whilst affording you the flexibility to move around the sector as your career progresses.

If you already have a clear picture of your career you can enrol in a specialised course or alternatively specialise post-graduation. Specialised qualifications cover such service fields as alcohol and other drugs, mental health, youth work or counselling.

The important thing is that you start your career in a role that is commensurate with your qualification and experience. This is why we recommend that you choose your course carefully.

Both diploma and bachelor courses should involve a minimum of 400 hours of practical fieldwork placements (the professional standard) to give you the best career prospects. The Victorian and Tasmanian state governments, for example, stipulate a ‘good’ diploma as the main entry level qualification into the profession. The New South Wales and Queensland state governments, however, place a higher value on bachelor’s degrees.

Community workers practice across the full spectrum of human services and in your career you could work with children, young people, people with disability, refugees and migrants, people experiencing homelessness and older people to name a few. There are many possibilities and options.

There are a variety of options where practitioners can work. Not-for-profit organisations make up a large proportion of the organisations offering welfare services, however, some workers prefer for-profit community sector organisations or government departments or for slightly more assured job security.

Safeguards are in place to protect vulnerable clients and you 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 offence, and whether it is relevant to the position (e.g. 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. Learn more about pursuing community work when you have a criminal record here.

If you are still uncertain about a career as a community worker, you may want to think about volunteer work. You won’t get the exact experience of a professional community work practitioner, but you will certainly get a feel for the sector within which you will be working.

Whatever your career aspirations you will find community work rewarding, challenging and diverse.