7-Step Plan to Strong Core Competencies

Frontline health workers are the core of your organization and bringing new hires up to speed should be as steady as a healthy heart.

That process of training health workers, including community health workers or promotores (CHWs/Ps), in core competencies should be repeatable and worry-free, but it’s not always.

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The problem is that some CHWs/Ps are brand new to the job and responsibilities, and others have decades of experience. Others still transfer to the position from a clinical background, such as nursing, and have different skillsets or must learn new job boundaries.

Not providing consistent training to these team members, their supervisors–and potentially the whole multidisciplinary care team—is trouble. Work doesn’t get done or done incorrectly, people step on each other’s toes, and it sparks friction among employees.

Why CHW Training Doesn’t Happen

CHWs/Ps have detailed jobs, they’re uniquely positioned in an agency, and they need to know how to do them. Most supervisors and program managers agree on that. But not all CHWs do. Why? Because some people are …

  • Confused about their job and don’t know how to ask for training
  • Nervous or embarrassed about asking supervisors for job training
  • Resistant to training support, especially if they feel they already know all there is to know
  • Overwhelmed supervisors who are juggling multiple job duties without adding training on top of it.

To add to the problem, CHWs/Ps are often considered to be at the bottom of the agency hierarchy, and decisionmakers decide to skip training.

In healthcare, the consequences of neglecting a core training plan are costly. At worst, clients and patients might not get the care they need. Or maybe it’s just that internal staff are confused, and that heaps onto your heap of management duties. The upshot is you’re pulled away from your regular work to address training gaps or its consequences.

So what do you do if you have a team that needs core competency training but aren’t sure where to start? Lucky for you, this problem has already been solved. Read on.

7-Step Plan to Strong Core Competencies

  1. Give CHWs a detailed job description.
  2. Find gaps.
  3. Document obsessively.
  4. Set time on the calendar for training and check-ins.
  5. Set up ongoing training.
  6. Don’t skimp on the training budget.
  7. Ask an expert to help you with your training plan.

Give CHWs a detailed job description.

Some agencies fail immediately because they don’t have a set job description for the CHW/P. But no one can do a good job if they don’t know what the job is. Create an overview of the job in writing, and a bulleted list of what each duty is. It can be helpful to create a job workflow to think of all possible tasks and how they’re implemented. If you’re at a loss, you could always start with something like Integrating Community Health Workers into Primary Care Practice from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

Many employers fail at effective onboarding right off the bat. Your new recruits won’t get off to a good start without absolute clarity about their responsibilities. Give them an overview in writing, as well as a bullet-pointed list of their primary duties. I find it helpful to rank the importance of these tasks to assist them in their prioritization process.

Find gaps.

Most agencies have at least some kind of internal training, and many have strengths in core competency areas like service coordination or ethics. Document what those training strengths are and then look for the weaknesses. Those gaps will tell you where you need to build out a comprehensive core competency training program.

If you’re looking for a list of competencies, read Most Important Job Skills To Build a CHW Career Path.


Document obsessively.

People leave their jobs for any number of reasons and programs evolve. Whatever you figure out now, document it so you can repeat it for the next time. Having a training process in place will help it go more smoothly.

You don’t have to do it yourself, by the way. Ask your current employees to write out what processes they use to complete their tasks. This might even be you if you’re just starting a CHW program, so write whatever you can when you can.

Set time on the calendar for training and check-ins.

Many unsuccessful training programs fail because there’s no urgency to complete or allotted time. You can solve both problems by setting a training framework, including:

  • Set up one-on-one times with you or a job peer to ask questions
  • Allow staff one day or afternoon a week just for training
  • Expand weekly training allowances include what CHWs/Ps should be learning all year.

Set up ongoing training.

Training isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s iterative and goes on to address the needs of clients, patients, and health trends. Implement a continuous learning strategy so you can help your staff always be aware of changes in guidelines and new skills.

Don’t skimp on the training budget.

When you’re figuring out how much to budget for your annual training plan, think about all the staff that should and can be trained under the same umbrella. CHWs/Ps need set courses for core competencies, but those courses can also be helpful for other staff or that might support other programs. That will help define where funding comes from and how much you can get from your investment.

Deciphering the true costs of online training is a complicated task that can easily reach beyond the boundaries of any grant or budget line item. Broaden your search to dig up all the costs you and your colleagues might be feeding into training–and identify ways to trim.

Your agency will set the training budget that fits, but make sure you have enough resources so you can do it right.

Ask an expert to help you with your training plan.

Successful CHW/P training covers core competencies and also many other nuances of client and patient care you might not have thought of. For example, a breast cancer screening course is better implemented with an outreach skills course.

An expert can take into consideration all your agency’s needs and strengths and make recommendations. The expert might be a partner agency, someone who set up a CHW training program at a different agency, or one of CHWTraining’s education consultants.

When a CHW/P core competency plan is set and your team is successfully completing it, everyone profits. Give your staff a chance to succeed, and your agency and community will benefit from a strong core.