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12 Skills You Need To Build a CHW Career

Employment opportunities for community health workers (CHWs) are better than ever.  More organizations are looking for ways to include CHWs and provide more CHW core competency training for internal staff.

This has never been so true as now, while the world is fighting to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to give some relief to overtaxed health care systems. CHWs have an especially important role to play. The US Department of Homeland Security specifically called out CHWs as:

“Essential critical infrastructure workers who are imperative during the response to the COVID-19 emergency for both public health and safety as well as community well-being.”

→ Enroll Now: CHW Core Competencies Online Training [Certificate]

This is a great opportunity for anyone looking to put themselves on a CHW career path while improving health outcomes for their community.

Careful planning of a CHW career path can allow anyone who starts with an entry-level job to expand it into a rewarding career. 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.

CHW Job Outlook

The statistics are inspiring. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for CHWs are expected to rise 18.1% by 2026. That means that 10,400 jobs could open up. Also, salaries for already employed CHWs are increasing. Wages are good, about $19 per hour, or $39,540 every year.

Gaining the skills to become a CHW can open the door to a money-making and secure career.

Building a CHW career path–rather than just finding an entry-level job—involves understanding the core competencies and what kinds of skills are useful for growth into the future.

In order to earn a profitable job and build a lasting career, current CHWs and people who would like to be one need to keep their health and professional skills sharp. They need to take extra training and prove their knowledge and expertise through certification.

CHWTraining’s Core Competencies Training offers complete, up-to-date training for employers who want to provide staff with foundational skills and knowledge of specific health topics, such as diabetes or breast cancer.

We created the quick guide below as a tool for employers who want to build sustainable training programs and CHWs who want to understand the job qualifications.

CHW Core Competencies

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 successful training.

CHW jobs by state

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

However, many core competencies training requirements are similar. The following are common skills required by many programs and advisory committees. Here are some CHW core competency training areas common among the Washington State Department of Health’s CHW program, the Roles and Competencies from the Community Health Worker Core Consensus (C3) Project, the US Department of Labor Employment & Training Administration, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. You can compare more national requirements at State Community Health Worker Models from the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) or from this guide.

12 Most Important Skills To Build a CHW Career Path

CHW Core Competency Example Skills
Advocacy Skills/Capacity Building Skills
  • empowering clients
  • motivating people to manage their own health and advocate for themselves
  • helping clients and patients set and reach their goals
  • supporting behavior change
  • identifying and overcome barriers
  • understanding community cultures and ways to reach members
Care Coordination or Service Coordination and System Navigation
  • navigating systems
  • collaborating with partners to connect clients and patients to resources
  • helping service providers work together
  • telling systems about needs of people
  • helping to develop and implement care plans
Communication Skills
  • listening skills
  • language skills
  • building rapport
  • using nonverbal communication
  • resolving and avoiding conflict
  • understanding and working within culturally diverse communities
Cultural Humility/Cultural Responsiveness
  • serve as a bridge between different cultures
  • translating healthy behaviors into culturally appropriate equivalents
  • understanding and working to reduce health disparities
  • using cultural sensitivities for all diverse groups
  • behaving respectfully
  • identifying biases
Education and Facilitation Skills
  • using various ways to deliver health information clearly
  • explaining terms in plain language
  • promoting healthy behavior change
  • finding and use resources to develop self-efficacy skills
Evaluation and Research
  • identifying issues in communities and their causes
  • conducting evaluation projects
  • collecting data
  • sharing results
  • communicating to stakeholders to make changes in services
Experience and Knowledge Base
  • fully understanding the community, including social determinants of health, health issues, ways to improve health and self-care, and basic public-health principles
  • understanding how US social-service systems work
Individual and Community Assessment and Direct Services
  • identifying needs, strengths and resources of communities
  • helping meet needs
  • helping clients understand their needs and overcome barriers
  • providing social and health support
Interpersonal and Relationship-Building Skills
  • establishing trust with people and in communities
  • being open-minded
  • using Motivational Interviewing techniques
Outreach Skills, Methods and Strategies
  • developing and implementing outreach plans
  • sharing information about programs and resources
  • creating and maintain relationships with community members and partners
Professional Skills and Conduct
  • understanding and handling legal and ethical challenges
  • respecting confidentiality and privacy rights
  • responding appropriately in complex situations
  • understanding and following agency rules

Originally published Oct 31, 2019, updated October 02, 2020.