As your team of community health workers (CHWs) scales, it’s important to understand how the field will grow into the future so you can create a community health worker career path for your staff.
The CHW job title is relatively new in the US compared with other job titles, such as care coordinators, case managers, or even promotores. A clear career ladder can be hard to see with new job positions like this. Plus, the CHW job has a high burnout rate, so many people who have been working in the job opt to move into a less demanding position, sometimes in healthcare and sometimes not.
CHWs will move on to new positions, some will get promoted into new jobs, and new people will want to enter the field and join your team. It’s helpful for agencies like yours to understand where and how to recruit or train for community health services careers. It’s also important to know how to encourage career growth along a rewarding path for employees who are more experienced in the field.
As need for this role keeps growing, CHWs can not only increase the health knowledge of their community members but also increase their own reach to more people and other job opportunities.
Creating a CHW Career Foundation
CHWs, as those in any field, need certain background experiences, skills, and knowledge to be successful. Some of these are soft skills that make a person well-suited to the job and some are hard skills that are part of a CHW core competencies program.
These are some of the skills you might review as a hiring managers or CHW supervisor:
Soft Skills for Community Health Workers
- Being friendly and open
- Having empathy
- Active-listening skills
- Respect and non-judgmental attitudes
- Good verbal communication
- Sensitive to challenging experiences
Hard Skills (Core Competencies) for Community Health Workers
- Advocacy Skills/Capacity Building Skills
- Care Coordination or Service Coordination and System Navigation
- Communication Skills
- Cultural Humility/Cultural Responsiveness
- Education and Facilitation Skills
- Evaluation and Research
- Experience and Knowledge Base
- Individual and Community Assessment and Direct Services
- Interpersonal and Relationship-Building Skills
- Outreach Skills, Methods and Strategies
- Professional Skills and Conduct
CHWs are employed in every state of the US (except South Dakota, for which no data is available), according to the BLS. Each state has independent job requirements, which vary from college degrees that take multiple years to complete to on-the-job training. Some states require certification, and some employers require certificates of completion to show completed training requirements. You can read more about requirements where you are to get a feel for how these core competencies change.
Some people favor jobs more because of their personal attributes. Others look for ways to gather core skills and then build on to them to earn a professional specialty. Managers like you should think about who the individual is and what their tendency is when you’re hiring and creating a career path at your agency.
Below, read some CHW job progressions, specific roles, responsibilities, and it all fits into a CHW career path.
How Can You Provide a CHW Career Path?
Creating a career path for your CHWs helps you recruit qualified workers and also helps you hold on to them when they decide they’d like to expand from their entry role. This will prevent them from being hired away by a new organization or out of your department.
One of the best ways that you can grow your career in customer service is by understanding the different roles that are out there and developing skills that align with them. Here’s an example of the most common positions you’ll find along a customer service role progression:
CHW Career Growth
Entry-Level: CHW, Promotores, or CHRs
CHWs are on the front line, working directly with clients or patients and responding to their needs. Training requirements depend on individual employers and state requirements, but it usually takes around two years to be a certified CHW.
A person’s decision to stay in a CHW role doesn’t need to be short-term. You can encourage your CHWs to enter as a CHW and stay a CHW for many years. Make sure stakeholders have adequate funding that builds a long-lasting program.
Why might CHWs decide to stay a CHW?
- They have meaningful relationships with their clients
- They’ve invested in and developed a deep understanding of the community and resources
- They’re included in programs that they help build, launch and maintain
- You offer recognition for achievements
- You supply bonuses and pay increases to make sure CHWs feel rewarded.
Mid-Level: Health Advocates, Care Coordinators, CNAs, Health Educators
The next step require some specialization or extra training. They still work one-on-one with clients and patients, but they may have some additional subject-matter expertise that helps them handle more specific patient requirements or work in more clinical settings.
CHWs can move into a role with more specialization. Health advocates, care coordinators, case managers and CNAs who’ve been trained as CHWs work better with an organization and patients to find and deliver care.
Managerial: CHW Supervisors, Managers, Social Workers, Nurses
These mid-level or managerial positions serve as team leads in an agency. They supervise CHWs as well as work with their own clients or patients. However, more of their working day is put toward administration and working with a larger multi-disciplinary team.
Some CHWs will take a job with more leadership potential where they offer training, mentorship, and advice to their peers. A pathway might look like this:
- Entry-level CHW: works with patients
- Senior CHW: works with patients, mentors new hires
- CHW Supervisor: works with staff, hires, works closely with partners
A CHW from there may grow to be someone with less direct content with clients and patients and more program or team management.