Community development workers help communities bring about social change and improve the quality of life in their local area

As a community development worker, you'll work with individuals, families or whole communities, empowering them to:

  • identify their assets, needs, opportunities, rights and responsibilities
  • plan what they want to achieve and take appropriate action
  • develop activities and services to generate aspiration and confidence.

You'll do this by acting as a link between communities and a range of other local authority and voluntary sector providers, such as the police, social workers and teachers.

Your role will frequently involve addressing inequality and the projects you work on will often be in communities perceived to be culturally, economically or geographically disadvantaged.

Responsibilities

As a community development worker, you'll need to:

  • work on projects tackling specific issues (e.g. mental health, public transport and drug abuse) - with groups such as the homeless, the long-term unemployed, families with young children or ethnic minorities.
  • seek to actively engage communities in making sense of the issues which affect their lives
  • set goals for improvement and respond to problems and needs through empowerment and active participation
  • identify community skills, assets, issues and needs
  • ensure that local people have their say
  • develop new resources in dialogue with the community and evaluate existing programmes
  • build links with other groups and agencies
  • help to raise public awareness on issues relevant to the community
  • prepare reports and policies
  • raise and manage funds
  • develop and implement strategies
  • liaise with interested groups and individuals to set up new services
  • mediate in matters of conflict
  • recruit and train paid and voluntary staff
  • plan, attend and coordinate meetings and events
  • oversee the management of a limited budget
  • encourage participation in activities
  • challenge inappropriate behaviour
  • carry out general administrative duties.

Salary

  • Starting salaries fall between £16,000 and £26,000.
  • Salaries for those with two or more years' experience can reach £21,000 to £36,000.

For public sector posts, there are national pay scales and sometimes an allowance is awarded as compensation for unsocial hours.

In the voluntary sector, pay varies considerably and often depends on experience and location.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Each working day will vary depending on your scheduled activities for that week. You need to be accessible to the communities you serve. This means the work will often include unsocial hours, such as evenings and weekends, so considerable flexibility is required.

Part-time or temporary work and career breaks are possible. Short-term contracts are common, due to the nature of funding within the sector.

What to expect

  • You may have an office base but will spend much of your time out and about in the community, visiting local people and groups and attending meetings.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes possible, working as a trainer or consultant.
  • Large towns and inner-city areas with recognised social deprivation are more likely to receive sustained funding, however, recognition of social issues affecting rural communities, means that the number of rural community development workers is increasing.
  • Coping with socially disadvantaged and disaffected members of the community can be stressful. Results are long term rather than immediate, so patience and perseverance are essential.
  • There is frequent contact with individuals, agencies and groups in the community. Therefore, travel within a working day is to be expected. Absence from home overnight is unlikely but may be required on occasion. Overseas work may be possible with a development charity.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to all graduates and those with an HND in any subject, a qualification in a social sciences subject may improve your chances.

Entry without a degree or HND is possible, although career development is more restricted. A degree in any subject will be an advantage in seeking higher-level posts but relevant experience is far more important than the subject area studied.

A variety of vocational college or work-based training courses and undergraduate and postgraduate university courses are available throughout the UK.

Before being allowed to work directly with children or vulnerable adults, employees in England and Wales will be required to undergo a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

Community development workers in Scotland will need to join the Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme (PVG). In Northern Ireland, you'll need to be checked by AccessNI.

Depending on your role, you may find postgraduate qualifications are essential in order to progress to more senior-level positions. A variety of full-time and part-time courses are available, with some open to those with an HND. One or two years' relevant experience is usually required.

Search postgraduate courses in community development.

Community development is often linked to youth work and many training courses will reflect this. Youth work is more specialised and often involves a different agenda than community development work. For further information on courses in youth work, see the National Youth Agency (NYA).

For information on youth work and youth work training in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, contact:

Scottish courses (and a few in other locations) often refer to community development as community education.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • advocacy and networking skills
  • excellent communication, interpersonal and team-building skills
  • good listening skills
  • research and report-writing skills, and the ability to interpret or present data
  • knowledge and understanding of community and social issues
  • a non-judgemental and positive attitude
  • creative thinking and problem-solving ability
  • political, social and negotiating skills
  • an understanding of how public sector bodies work
  • compassion and the ability to empathise with people's life experiences
  • fundraising - at management level there is an increasing need to identify and pursue sources of funding
  • life experience and language skills can be an aid to this role and help you make important connections with those you are helping.

Work experience

Pre-entry paid or voluntary work experience is crucial. People often become community development workers after working in teaching, youth work, the health sector or other roles within the community. Development work overseas may also be relevant.

It's important to have a proven interest in community and social issues and at least a year's involvement in a relevant area, including:

  • community work
  • pressure groups
  • women's projects
  • youth work.

Try to get involved in voluntary work as a student, in local community projects, youth groups, tenants' associations or women's groups. Contact your local volunteer centre to get community-project experience. You can search for your nearest branch or your region's equivalent via Do-it.

Competition for jobs is keen, especially for the limited number of local authority posts, which often offer greater job security. The level of job opportunities can vary according to changes in the political climate. For example, rises or falls in unemployment and immigration.

Employers

The most common employers of community development workers are:

  • community education organisations
  • housing associations
  • local authorities
  • NHS trusts
  • organisations set up with a specific aim, e.g. to help asylum seekers or to advise about drugs
  • rural community councils
  • social services
  • voluntary sector organisations.

Due to the nature of funding for this sector, many positions are fixed-term contracts.

Some roles are managed by voluntary organisations due to funding restrictions, but these may not be paid positions. These include:

  • children's charities
  • churches and other faith groups
  • community associations
  • environmental groups
  • health and mental health organisations
  • homeless projects
  • shelters
  • women's groups.

Look for vacancies at:

You can also check local authority vacancy bulletins for opportunities.

Professional development

Ongoing training is essential in community work and usually occurs on the job or as part-time study to gain a recognised qualification.

Since projects and communities vary so much, community development workers must constantly develop new skills, update old ones and acquire specific knowledge. Training provision varies depending on the employer, but there are likely to be opportunities to develop relevant skills.

The voluntary sector is especially rich in interesting and relevant training opportunities, including accredited training programmes available at colleges and other learning centres.

It's possible to take National Open College Network (NOCN) Awards and Certificates or Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) in community development.

Social services and other organisations employing community development workers often offer programmes of in-house training, which usually focus on issues such as child protection and equal opportunities.

It's also quite common for community development workers to pursue their own continuing professional development (CPD) by undertaking a Masters degree or other postgraduate qualifications. Relevant subjects include:

  • business and community studies
  • housing practice
  • legal studies
  • public health or community health
  • social services management
  • voluntary sector studies.

Career prospects

Opportunities for promotion can be limited in both the public and voluntary sectors and you may have to move to another geographical area to progress to a more senior role. Senior posts usually involve managing more staff, a larger budget or a wider geographical area.

Sideways movement into projects with a different focus or switching between generic and specific work, however, is common.

Postgraduate study is an option and will probably be necessary if you want to move into a policy-making position or progress to the role of director with responsibility for implementing large-scale and complex projects.

With substantial experience and expertise in a specific field, there is the possibility of freelance work in the role of a trainer, consultant or adviser. Due to the broad nature of community work, workers can develop their careers by moving into other fields such as:

  • education
  • environment
  • health sector
  • social work
  • youth work.

Opportunities also exist for overseas development work - for more information check out the websites of international charities and see International Association for Community Development (IACD).

Find out how Josh became a community cohesion officer at BBC Bitesize.

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