How To Train Your Team to Be CHWs and Steps for Success

Community health workers have so many different roles and responsibilities, that if you’re like many managers, you’re are unsure of where to start when it comes to your CHW program and how to train your staff as CHWs.

CHWs are an important link between your agency and the community–now more so than ever. Bringing new hires up to speed should be as steady as a healthy heart, but that’s easier said than done. Some of the most common symptoms of an under-trained CHW team include confusion among a multidisciplinary team, CHWs not sure where they fit in, and friction or frustration among your staff.

Your CHWs can contribute to the success of a community-focused program as long as they’re trained to do their jobs according to standardized core competencies. CHW workforce training should be opened up to your staff and also their supervisors. This is often a foundation of online or on-site classes followed up by on-the-job practice.

Unfortunately, some agencies devalue the work CHWs do, so they skim over training as an unnecessary expense. They tap program managers, supervisors, or other employees to do quick orientations. That’s helpful, and certainly a valuable part of the bigger position, but not enough on its own.

Ensuring that your team has the tools to perform their job starts with considering the varying levels of experience and your CHWs’ backgrounds when it comes to ongoing training. Individual state requirements and different community needs are also key in a successful training program.

Lack of CHW Training Sets You Back

Community health workers (or promotores de salud) have a specific function within your agency and program, and they need to know exactly what’s expected of them. Without clear guidance, they’re set up to fail.

Some reasons why your CHWs may be struggling and need training:

  • They’re confused about their job and don’t know how to ask for training
  • They feel nervous or embarrassed about asking supervisors for job training
  • They react defensively to training support, especially if they feel they already know all there is to know
  • Overwhelmed supervisors are juggling multiple job duties to balance the gaps

Unfortunately, CHWs are often considered to be at the bottom of the agency hierarchy and as such, they’re the last person to be consulted when it comes to planning — or skipping — training plans.

In healthcare, the consequences of neglecting a core training plan are costly. At best, internal staff is confused, and that piles onto your heap of management duties. At worst, clients and patients might not get the care they need.

So what do you do if you have a team that needs core competency training but don’t know 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.

1. Define CHWs Roles with a Clear Job Description.

The first mistake many managers make when hiring new staff is failing to provide a clear job description.

Successful onboarding begins with a clear scope of work. In order to excel at their job, your CHW needs to know exactly what’s expected of them.

To get started, 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.

A clear role description and example workflows give your new hire the tools they need for a successful career from the start.

2. Find Gaps in Your Team’s Training or Experience.

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.

On the flip side, take your new hires as an opportunity to evaluate company-wide gaps and overlaps. With a bird’s eye view of your team’s skills versus the program needs, you’ll likely find talent that’s being misused and areas that are lacking attention.

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

3. Document successful processes, workflows, and resources.

In order to evolve as a leader and improve your organization, it’s important to document what works — and most importantly, what doesn’t work — within the needs of your program.

Setting up systems like templates, documented workflows that are easy to follow, and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) prevents you from making the same mistakes and helps cut down decision making when it comes to getting stuff done.

The best part? You don’t have to do it yourself. Have your team document the processes and tools they use as they work to make compiling resources easy.

4. 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.

Bonus points for setting your own CHW training goals and making it a habit to keep track of progress.

5. 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.

Stay on top of your game and implement a continuous learning strategy so you can help your staff always be aware of changes in guidelines and new skills.

6. 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.

7. Ask an Expert to Help You with Your Training Plan.

Successful CHW training covers core competencies and many other nuances of client and patient care you might not have considered. 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 successfully completes it, everyone profits. Give your staff a chance to succeed, and your agency and community will benefit from a strong core.

Originally published July 10, 2020, updated February 26, 2021

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