If you have a passion for helping people gain access to learning and developing their skills, a career as a community education officer would be ideal for you

As a community education officer, you'll help to organise and promote participation in local education or training opportunities. This includes developing skills in literacy and numeracy, life skills or practical skills, such as budgeting, cooking or learning how to use a computer.

You may work in diverse communities, in non-traditional venues such as community centres, children's centres, libraries and churches.

Community education officers work closely with course providers and external partners, such as Jobcentre Plus staff, and spend a lot of time developing positive working relationships with community support workers.

Usually, you'll work in areas of social deprivation or high unemployment.

Responsibilities

Activities are wide-ranging and can vary greatly depending on the type of employer and sector.

For example, the role of a community education officer employed by a children's centre is very different to that of a community education officer employed by a university's widening-participation department.

However, community education roles typically involve an element of community engagement to increase participation in informal, educational and recreational activities.

You'll typically need to:

  • engage with individuals and community groups, such as residents' associations, parents' groups and young people
  • identify local interests and needs and ways to meet them
  • help potential learners to overcome existing barriers to learning
  • work with individuals to create learning plans
  • formulate service plans and priorities in cooperation with other providers
  • encourage and influence the development of new learning opportunities through formal and informal classes as well as individual tutoring and mentoring
  • support the development of community or local voluntary groups
  • identify the training needs of local volunteers and provide for them
  • source grants and funding for community projects
  • allocate and monitor budgets
  • undertake the administration and evaluation of provision and report to advisory bodies and management groups
  • manage staff and volunteers and deal with team training (more usual in senior roles).

Salary

  • Starting salaries in the public sector range from £23,500 to £28,000. Salaries in the voluntary sector may be lower.
  • Salaries for more senior posts range from £26,000 to in excess of £30,000.
  • Staff combining management or strategic roles with tutoring and curriculum development, or those in school management posts with a community remit, may receive higher salaries.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically around 37 to 40 hours per week. Hours are often flexible but you may need to work evenings and/or weekends.

There are good opportunities for part-time work and career breaks may be available.

Many posts depend on funding, and are initially short-term contracts lasting up to two years at a time. This can prove frustrating, particularly due to the long-term developmental nature of the work.

What to expect

  • Although the work is generally office-based, for example in a college, community centre, school or local authority office, you may spend time travelling to meet clients or training providers, or to attend meetings.
  • Jobs are available across the country, but the number of opportunities will fluctuate with the availability of funding.
  • Much of the working day is spent in casual settings and staff dress accordingly. Meetings with senior management or funders may require a smart dress code.
  • The work often requires sensitivity, creativity and determination to overcome barriers and engage learners. Be prepared for setbacks before success is achieved.
  • Encouraging lifelong learning and increasing access to education in areas of the community that haven't traditionally taken part before, e.g. the homeless, those with substance addiction, perpetrators and/or victims of crime or domestic violence, may be challenging.

Qualifications

Although this area of work is open to graduates from all subjects, a degree or HND/foundation degree in the following subjects may increase your chances of employment:

  • community development
  • community education
  • educational studies
  • English or communication studies
  • social sciences
  • sociology or social policy
  • sport development
  • youth work.

For most posts, you'll need a degree plus relevant paid or voluntary community experience. Many community education officers come from a youth and community background, while others have teaching or adult tutoring qualifications and experience.

Although not essential, a postgraduate qualification in community work or community education may be useful, especially if your degree is in an unrelated subject.

Entry without a degree is sometimes possible if you've got extensive experience, especially for posts in the voluntary sector, or posts linked closely with recreational or family activities. Entry requirements can vary widely depending on the specific role, so check job adverts carefully.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • the ability to relate to, motivate and empathise with a range of people from different backgrounds
  • a demonstrable respect for equality and diversity and the ability to promote equal opportunity practices
  • an understanding of different value bases
  • persistence and resilience, as results are often not immediate and outcomes can't be guaranteed
  • a range of group-work skills, from creating and leading a group to being a participative member
  • the ability to work independently, making decisions and using initiative to establish projects
  • good planning and organisational skills
  • a high level of creativity and problem-solving ability as helping people to overcome barriers can be challenging
  • a flexible approach and the ability to cope with change
  • the ability to interpret, communicate and implement complex information
  • the ability to reflect constructively on current practice and adapt accordingly.

You need to have an appreciation of diverse communities, as well as an understanding of methods of engagement for 'hard to reach' groups.

Work experience

Try to get involved in volunteer work, as this will provide important, relevant experience and help you to decide if community work is really for you. Contact your local volunteer bureau or student volunteer centre or visit The Mix for advice and details of groups in the UK.

Your university careers service may be able to advise you on widening participation initiatives and vacancies within your institution. Getting a paid job is often the result of networking and maintaining contacts made through voluntary experience.

Employers

The majority of community education officers are employed in the voluntary sector, the public sector or in local government. Main employers include:

  • local authorities
  • schools and colleges of further and higher education
  • voluntary educational bodies, such as the Workers' Educational Association (WEA)
  • youth and community organisations
  • sports clubs, arts organisations such as orchestras, theatres, galleries, museums and heritage organisations, such as Historic Environment Scotland and the National Trust
  • voluntary organisations, particularly those with a specific remit for work with young people, the homeless, those with mental health issues and special interest groups.

Jobs may also be available in areas of widening participation and lifelong learning, such as:

  • outreach work
  • creating more flexible educational provision, such as family learning programmes
  • delivering programmes to encourage participation in vocational training and life skills development
  • working with a specific client group or within a particular educational specialist area - for example, in a partnership between a local college and local authority department, such as social work, community services and housing.

At grassroots level, you may work alongside community organisations such as residents' associations, ethnic minority organisations or faith groups. There are many opportunities to gain voluntary experience prior to employment.

Community education is just as likely to happen informally through community action projects as through formal programmes of learning.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Staff development opportunities are likely to consist of short courses to develop skills or raise awareness of specific issues. This might involve health promotion issues, group work or training in the field of staff development.

Courses are often provided in-house or by other organisations associated with community development and lifelong learning. Such training opportunities are often funded through regional development agencies and may be coordinated by:

It's also possible to take a postgraduate course in community studies/work or community education.

If you're heavily involved in outreach roles, you may find that NVQ or diploma qualifications in youth and community work enhance your career prospects. Such courses may be available part time, and be encouraged and/or paid for by your employer.

Specific qualifications in teaching in further education may be useful for certain roles. See Education & Training Foundation - FE Advice for details.

For more information, see Excellence Gateway, the Education and Training Foundation's resources portal.

Career prospects

As community education work is so diverse, your career may move sideways as you gain experience in a range of community education roles before considering promotion.

Opportunities vary between employers. For example, structured progression to management is more likely within large education services, further education colleges or local authorities. Management roles may include responsibility for overall policy, planning and coordination of provision.

Progression can also be achieved by specialising in specific client groups, such as disadvantaged groups. This can provide the opportunity to build on your basic experience and extend your expertise.

Career development may also involve a move towards more formal settings such as careers advice, adult tutoring, social work or other areas of community work.