By far the largest employer of the human services workforce is your state or local government. Whether it is as an eligibility worker, a school social worker or as a child-welfare worker, opportunities and options abound. Working in the public sector offers a host of rewards and challenges one won't find in the private or nonprofit sectors.
As a public-sector worker, you will frequently be interacting directly with the public. You will be expected to maintain the highest standards of professionalism as a representative of the government. Usually, states provide extensive and valuable training in areas such as cultural competency. These trainings give one the resources needed to deal with the incredible diversity workers will encounter as part of the public sector. This kind of training can also prove to be extremely enlightening and is an excellent supplement to your educational background.
Perhaps the greatest asset to a public worker is the network of vast resources standing behind your work. Among the many resources at your disposal are:
These are just some of the many tools state workers can use in their work with the public.
Being a public servant is a way one can give back to their community by working directly with members of that community who are in need. The satisfaction this brings to a public-sector worker is hard to overstate. From the smile of a small child who knows they will go shopping that night, to the relief in a senior's eyes when their medical program is reinstated, few jobs will impact so many people in such positive ways. Most positions within the public sector require a bachelor's degree in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, etc.). If you are interested in starting at higher pay grades or in a position of greater responsibility, such as management, a Master of Social Work or Business Administration with a public works focus are both excellent educational paths. If you think a job in the public sector is for you, here are some links to state human services departments:
One of the most diverse sectors in the human services field is the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits fill in many niche services the state is unable or unwilling to provide. From women's shelters, to homeless outreach, needle exchange and mobile dental services for the poor, the nonprofit sector provides unique services for at-risk communities.
Here are some of the unique characteristics of nonprofits:
One of the advantages of working at a nonprofit is that you tend to have a very focused purpose that helps you to hone in on providing one particular service to a select part of the community. By having this focus, one can really achieve a tremendous depth in helping the community you serve. Rather than a generic, one-size-fits-all approach, the nonprofit is able to specifically tailor its program to the individuals within the community it supports.
For example, at a women's shelter for domestic violence survivors, one can expect to have access to specialized resources to help women struggling with the unique problems of being domestic violence survivors. For example, the Raphael House in Portland, Ore., provides the following as one of many specialized programs to help domestic violence survivors:
“The Multnomah County Domestic Violence Response Team (DVERT) utilizes a nationally recognized model of intervention that places an emphasis on providing coordinated, multi-disciplinary responses to high-priority/high-risk domestic violence cases. Raphael House of Portland currently employs two advocates, one of whom is fully bilingual, that are a part of the Multnomah County Domestic Violence Response Team.”1
If you are looking to make a profound and lasting impact on the lives of those in need and have a specific cause you want to aid, the nonprofit sector may be ideal. As in most human services sectors, nonprofits usually want a social sciences-related bachelor's degree, although also some entry-level positions can yield valuable experience.
Private-sector employment of human services workers usually falls into a few distinct areas. The first is research and data gathering, such as what occurs with clinical psychologists and sociologists specializing in community surveys and data analysis. The second main function of private-sector workers in human services is to perform various types of counseling. A final main focus of human services professionals in the private sector is in various forms of public relations and human resources positions. Whether it's as a sports psychologist, couples counselor, marketing consultant or child therapist, most private-sector work involves working closely with a client on their emotional well-being.
Some private-sector jobs in this field feature excellent pay and are among the top salaries earned by human services workers. Depending on the career path, a private-sector worker has the potential for the greatest flexibility and input concerning their work environment. Those who pursue private practice in counseling can have tremendous freedom in shaping their own practices as they see fit. On the other hand, those seeking more structure can join teams performing data gathering and analysis.
Some career options in the private sector can include:
Due to the field’s diversity, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific educational route one should take in this sector. In the field of sociological research, a master's degree in sociology with an emphasis on research and statistics is highly desirable; sometimes a bachelor's degree in the same area with experience can be substituted for a master's. If one wishes to start a counseling private practice, a Master of Social Work or doctorate in psychology is a necessary first step. In almost all cases, a bachelor's degree in the relevant social science discipline will be a minimum requirement for employment.
With the incredible diversity of options available in the private sector, from generous pay to control over one's work environment, there are many compelling reasons to join the human services workforce in this sector.