Community worker/community development worker

Community development is a process whereby those who are marginalised and excluded from society are enabled to gain self confidence and to join with others. They are encouraged to participate in actions to change their situation and to tackle the problems that face their community.

Community work is concerned with the development and empowerment of communities through facilitating the active participation of people in addressing issues that affect them collectively. It can be done in a variety of contexts: in neighbourhoods, with specific groups (eg women, Travellers), with partnership groups, local authorities and state agencies.

Community workers usually work in teams and liaise closely with the police, social workers, teachers, probation officers and other agencies. They represent the voices and needs of target groups and disadvantaged communities to policy makers at local and national level.

Job description

Work activities

  • Working with community groups providing a range of activities
  • Identifying assets and capacities that are latent within communities
  • Building capacity that allows the community to share knowledge and resources effectively
  • Setting up new services by liaison with interested groups
  • Recruiting and training paid and voluntary staff
  • Attending meetings and presenting verbal and written reports
  • Managing finance, payroll
  • Making funding applications for relevant organisations
  • Acting as a facilitator to promote self-help in the community.

Work conditions

Travel: can be a regular feature of the job, although overseas travel is rare. Overseas work is possible however with organisations such as Goal.
Working hours: involves regular unsocial hours including evenings and weekends.
Location: mainly in disadvantaged communities within inner-city areas, rural areas and small towns.
Opportunities for self-employment: not likely.

Typical employers

Community work organisations and agencies:

  • Community development projects
  • Local urban and rural development groups
  • Organisations concerned with particular groups (women, Travellers, new communities) or issues (unemployment, migrant rights, drugs, poverty).

Community work approaches are increasingly used in related areas (local economic development, health promotion, participatory arts) and positions of leadership and management are increasingly open to graduates with relevant experience.

Career development

Career development is limited. Promotion usually depends on staffing levels, but may be to coordinator or senior management level, or sideways into areas of specialism.

Salaries

Salaries vary depending on employer and experience.

Entry requirements and training

Entry requirements

While relevant experience has in the past been more important than a qualification, and accredited qualifications in community development tend not to be seen as a requirement, employers would probably look more favourably on those with a recognised qualification in community development work, such as undergraduate certificates/diplomas or primary degrees, or postgraduate/higher diplomas or masters degrees.

The professional endorsement of community work education and training programmes is currently under development on an all-Ireland basis.

Specific degree subjects required

While opportunities are open to graduates from all disciplines, those with appropriate primary degrees have an advantage, especially when applying for postgraduate programmes.

Other relevant degree subjects

  • Social sciences
  • Social or public administration
  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Political science
  • Social work
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Town planning.

Postgraduate study

There are a number of postgraduate programmes in community development, some of which also combine the study of youth work. Entry is normally confined to those holding a primary degree in one of the social sciences (social work, sociology, social or public administration, political science, economics, psychology, anthropology, town planning, adult education etc) and who have experience, paid or voluntary, or work with communities, neighbourhood groups, youth organisations or projects, or other similar groups.

Those holding other primary degrees may also be considered in the light of their experience and personal studies.

Specific entry requirements

Relevant experience is normally essential. In line with national provisions for the protection of children and vulnerable adults, applicants for training programmes will normally be required to undergo Garda vetting.

Training

Newly-qualified community workers will normally train on the job with the support of experienced colleagues. There is constant expansion in the area of training and accreditation; continuing professional development is available through a range of courses, seminars and conferences. See below for a link to the Directory of Youth and Community Work Courses available from the Irish Youth Work Centre.

Tips for applications

A background of working with groups experiencing social exclusion and young people would be an advantage. A driving licence may be a distinct advantage.

Skills and qualities

  • Ability to relate to people from a wide range of backgrounds and to engage with target groups
  • In-depth understanding of related policies
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills including report writing
  • Understanding of the issues, concerns and interests of others without being patronising
  • Commitment and enthusiasm
  • Good leadership, motivational and organisational skills
  • Capable of working both on own initiative and as part of a team
  • Sincerity, patience and 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.