While a bachelorís degree usually is not required, employers
increasingly seek individuals with relevant work experience
or education beyond high school.
Employment is projected to grow much faster than average.
Job opportunities should be excellent, particularly for applicants
with appropriate postsecondary education, but pay is low.
Nature of the Work
Social and human service assistant is a generic term for people
with a wide array of job titles, including human service worker,
case management aide, social work assistant, community support
worker, mental health aide, community outreach worker, life skill
counselor, or gerontology aide. They usually work under the direction
of workers from a variety of fields, such as nursing, psychiatry,
psychology, rehabilitative or physical therapy, or social work.
The amount of responsibility and supervision they are given varies
a great deal. Some have little direct supervision; others work
under close direction.
Social and human service assistants provide direct and indirect
client services to ensure that individuals in their care reach
their maximum level of functioning. They assess clientsí needs,
establish their eligibility for benefits and services such as
food stamps, Medicaid, or welfare, and help to obtain them. They
also arrange for transportation and escorts, if necessary, and
provide emotional support. Social and human service assistants
monitor and keep case records on clients and report progress to
supervisors and case managers.
Social and human service assistants play a variety of roles in
a community. They may organize and lead group activities, assist
clients in need of counseling or crisis intervention, or administer
a food bank or emergency fuel program. In halfway houses, group
homes, and government-supported housing programs, they assist
adults who need supervision with personal hygiene and daily living
skills. They review clientsí records, ensure that they take correct
doses of medication, talk with family members, and confer with
medical personnel and other caregivers to gain better insight
into clientsí backgrounds and needs. Social and human service
assistants also provide emotional support and help clients become
involved in their own well-being, in community recreation programs,
and in other activities.
In psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitation programs, and outpatient
clinics, social and human service assistants work with professional
care providers, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and social
workers, to help clients master everyday living skills, communicate
more effectively, and get along better with others. They support
the clientís participation in a treatment plan, such as individual
or group counseling or occupational therapy.
Working conditions of social and human service assistants vary.
Some work in offices, clinics, and hospitals, while others work
in group homes, shelters, sheltered workshops, and day programs.
Many work under close supervision, while others work much of the
time on their own, such as those who spend their time in the field
visiting clients. Sometimes visiting clients can be dangerous
even though most agencies do everything they can to ensure their
workersí safety. Most work a 40-hour week, although some work
in the evening and on weekends.
The work, while satisfying, can be emotionally draining. Understaffing
and relatively low pay may add to the pressure. Turnover is reported
to be high, especially among workers without academic preparation
for this field.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
While a bachelorís degree usually is not required for entry into
this occupation, employers increasingly seek individuals with
relevant work experience or education beyond high school. Certificates
or associate degrees in subjects such as social work, human services,
gerontology, or one of the social or behavioral sciences meet
most employersí requirements. Some jobs may require a bachelorís
or masterís degree in human services or a related field such as
counseling, rehabilitation, or social work.
Human services degree programs have a core curriculum that trains
students to observe patients and record information, conduct patient
interviews, implement treatment plans, employ problem-solving
techniques, handle crisis intervention matters, and use proper
case management and referral procedures. General education courses
in liberal arts, sciences, and the humanities also are part of
the curriculum. Most programs offer the opportunity to take specialized
courses related to addictions, gerontology, child protection,
and other areas. Many degree programs require completion of a
Educational attainment often influences the kind of work employees
may be assigned and the degree of responsibility that may be entrusted
to them. For example, workers with no more than a high school
education are likely to receive extensive on-the-job training
to work in direct-care services, while employees with a college
degree might be assigned to do supportive counseling, coordinate
program activities, or manage a group home. Social and human service
assistants with proven leadership ability, either from previous
experience or as a volunteer in the field, often have greater
autonomy in their work. Regardless of the academic or work background
of employees, most employers provide some form of inservice training,
such as seminars and workshops, to their employees.
There may be additional hiring requirements in group homes. For
example, employers may require employees to have a valid driverís
license or to submit to a criminal background investigation.
Employers try to select applicants who have a strong desire to
help others, have effective communication skills, a strong sense
of responsibility, and the ability to manage time effectively.
Many human services jobs involve direct contact with people who
are vulnerable to exploitation or mistreatment; therefore, patience,
understanding, and a strong desire to help others are highly valued
Formal education almost always is necessary for advancement.
In general, advancement requires a bachelorís or masterís degree
in human services, counseling, rehabilitation, social work, or
a related field. Typically, advancement brings case management,
supervision, and administration roles.
Social and human service assistants held about 352,000 jobs in
2004. More than half worked in the health care and social assistance
industries. One in three were employed by State and local governments,
primarily in public welfare agencies and facilities for mentally
disabled and developmentally challenged individuals.
Job opportunities for social and human service assistants are
expected to be excellent, particularly for applicants with appropriate
postsecondary education. The number of social and human service
assistants is projected to grow much faster than the average for
all occupations between 2004 and 2014óranking the occupation among
the most rapidly growing. Many additional job opportunities will
arise from the need to replace workers who advance into new positions,
retire, or leave the workforce for other reasons. There will be
more competition for jobs in urban areas than in rural areas,
but qualified applicants should have little difficulty finding
employment. Faced with rapid growth in the demand for social and
human services many employers increasingly rely on social and
human service assistants to undertake greater responsibility for
delivering services to clients.
Opportunities are expected to be good in private social service
agencies, which provide such services as adult day care and meal
delivery programs. Employment in private agencies will grow as
State and local governments continue to contract out services
to the private sector in an effort to cut costs. Demand for social
services will expand with the growing elderly population, who
are more likely to need these services. In addition, more social
and human service assistants will be needed to provide services
to pregnant teenagers, the homeless, the mentally disabled and
developmentally challenged, and substance abusers. Some private
agencies have been employing more social and human service assistants
in place of social workers, who are more educated and, thus, more
Job training programs also are expected to require additional
social and human service assistants. As social welfare policies
shift focus from benefit-based programs to work-based initiatives
there will be more demand for people to teach job skills to the
people who are new to, or returning to, the workforce.
Residential care establishments should face increased pressures
to respond to the needs of the mentally and physically disabled.
Many of these patients have been deinstitutionalized and lack
the knowledge or the ability to care for themselves. Also, more
community-based programs and supportive independent-living sites
are expected to be established to house and assist the homeless
and the mentally and physically disabled. As substance abusers
are increasingly being sent to treatment programs instead of prison,
employment of social and human service assistants in substance
abuse treatment programs also will grow.
The number of jobs for social and human service assistants in
local governments will grow but not as fast as employment for
social and human service assistants in other industries. Employment
in the public sector may fluctuate with the level of funding provided
by State and local governments. Also, some State and local governments
are contracting out selected social services to private agencies
in order to save money.
Median annual earnings of social and human service assistants
were $24,270 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$19,220 and $30,900. The top 10 percent earned more than $39,620,
while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $15,480.
Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest
numbers of social and human service assistants in May 2004 were:
Individual and family services
Vocational rehabilitation services
Residential mental retardation, mental health
and substance abuse facilities
Workers in other occupations that require skills similar to those
of social and human service assistants include social workers;
counselors; childcare workers; occupational therapist assistants
and aides; physical therapist assistants and aides; and nursing,
psychiatric, and home health aides.
Sources of Additional Information
Information on academic programs in human services may be found
in most directories of 2-year and 4-year colleges, available at
libraries or career counseling centers.
For information on programs and careers in human services, contact:
National Organization for Human Services, 5601 Brodie Lane,
Suite 620-215, Austin, TX 78745. Internet: http://www.nohse.org/
Council for Standards in Human Services Education, Harrisburg
Area Community College, Human Services Program, One HACC Dr.,
Harrisburg, PA 17110-2999. Internet: http://www.cshse.org/
Information on job openings may be available from State employment
service offices or directly from city, county, or State departments
of health, mental health and mental retardation, and human resources.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,