what is human services?

What Is a Human Services Profession?

If you are looking to start a profession that will make an impact on the community around you, a career in human services could be the perfect path for you. Civic-minded, responsible people who have a desire to facilitate positive change in society will find a wide array of job opportunities to choose from in a field that is growing dramatically, offering many possibilities of ways to get involved in the causes that you care about.

So what is human services, and what are some examples of human service jobs? Read on for all the information you need to enter the ever-growing field.

A Deeper Look at What Is Human Services Career?

An expansive field that encompasses a wide variety of careers, human services takes an interdisciplinary approach to public service to support people in vulnerable situations, from mental illness and addiction to poverty and its effects.

Those who study human services take classes in sociology, criminal justice, social work, public health, and psychology. Human services workers play a wide variety of roles on behalf of people facing serious challenges, oftentimes taking leadership positions in organizations that help others. They can be involved in actions that take a broad view of individual and community needs, playing a key role in systems planning as well as public advocacy and educational campaigns on behalf of those in need.

In their one-to-one work, human service professionals often act as first responders in such situations, assessing individuals’ needs to find the resources and preliminary plan of action that will best address those issues. In this way they can become liaisons between individuals in need and the clinician supporting them. They can also become liaisons between agencies, helping make systems more efficient to provide care more directly.


The Difference Between Human Services vs. Social Work

Though the fields of human services and social work overlap in many arenas – and professionals from both areas frequently work at the same organizations – they are different disciplinary approaches that result in different career paths. Though technically speaking, social work is in fact a sub-category of human services, the jobs available to a social worker and training required to become from is its own designated path.

Human services is in fact a broad field that encompasses a huge variety of jobs, with an underlying principle of supporting individuals, families, and communities.

Social workers, meanwhile, are focused specifically on behavioral health, providing therapeutic practices and skill-building mentorship directly to individuals.


How Does the Human Services Field Make a Difference?

Human services is engaged at many levels of public service.

Perhaps most importantly, human services as a field is directed toward improving service delivery systems, maximizing their accessibility, accountability, and coordination.

This is done using a process of assessment and strategizing to understand and expand different civic programs’ ability to support individuals, families, and communities.

Human Service Professions

There are human service professionals in a huge variety of civic organizations. These include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Correctional, intellectual disability, and community mental health centers
  • Family, child, and youth service agencies
  • Group homes and halfway houses
  • Programs concerned with alcoholism and drug abuse
  • Agencies to support victims of domestic violence and abuse
  • Nursing homes

For a comprehensive list of job titles for human services personnel, consult the section “Examples of Human Services Titles” later in this article.

Professional Competencies Necessary to Be Successful in Human Services

Though there are many roles a human service professional can play, no matter where they are working, jobs across the board will require the same core competencies. Those who pursue an advanced degree in human services will find that many of these skills are built up in your graduate program, before you have necessarily figured out an area of specialty.

Understanding Human Systems

Human service jobs require a deep understanding of how people are organized from the micro level to the macro level – as individuals, groups, communities, and as a society at large. Those who work in human services professions must spend considerable time thinking through the ways that support systems and social services affect the lives of individuals.

Evaluating Conditions

Some of the highest levels of human service jobs are advocates for public policy and leaders who help reform social systems for the better. To gain the authority to take such responsibility, one must be well versed in the models of causation – in other words, evaluation methods to assess the condition of social institutions and the chain of effects they have on the public. Those who work in one-on-one settings with patients similarly must draw from a deep familiarity with the evaluation standards of their field.

Skill in Selecting Intervention Methods

In many human service jobs, workers are called upon to make significant decisions, evaluating the needs of clients and determining the course of intervention that is appropriate to their problem. These can be critical, deeply impactful recommendations that must be made by knowledgeable and judicious professionals who have the insight and experience to make responsible choices. This is especially true for human service professionals who work as first responders and have to make key decisions quickly.

Skill in Planning and Implementing Interventions

Beyond being able to simply recommend the best course of intervention to meet a client’s needs, a human service professional is often responsible for overseeing the intervention itself. This requires an education in a large variety of intervention methods and the management skills to supervise an intervention in the long term, assessing and adapting plans when necessary.

Developing Personal Values as a Human Service Professional

Human services is a field in which many come to cultivate a philosophy that guides their efforts, based on knowledge gained from years of experience. Human service professionals aren’t necessarily expected to enter the field knowing exactly what their values are in a given field – and after all, it can take a lot of experience to draw such conclusions. However, to make a career as a human service professional sustainable, it’s important to develop your own personal priorities and objectives. This will help you make reliable decisions in your work – such as consistent choices for intervention methods – and further, help you find work at organizations whose values align with yours.

Process Skills

Work as a human services professional typically involves interacting with a high volume of people, oftentimes from a variety of walks of life. It is imperative to have the social skills to not only make yourself available to those you are working with but also to complete procedural objectives at the same time, requiring you to be adaptable but focused on the task at hand.

Similarly, human services professionals are often responsible for organizational work involving logistics and administration, meaning one must be diligent and detail-oriented to do their job in a truly effective way.

human services professional

The Schedule of a Human Service Professional

The experiences of human service workers vary greatly depending on what kind of service they are performing. Some work in offices and clinics while others spend more time out in the field than behind a desk. However, there are some consistencies that – generally speaking – incoming human service workers can expect.

Most human service workers, especially those who work in social service agencies and community-based settings, work full-time jobs with 40-hour work weeks. Sometimes these jobs require additional work on evenings and weekends.

Those who work in residential settings such as nursing homes tend to work in shifts, sometimes working late nights and on weekends, as these facilities are open 24/7 and require support personnel around the clock.

It can be difficult to maintain a work/life balance when taking on the responsibilities that come with a human service job. When looking for work, it’s important to take stock of the expectations of your prospective jobs and make sure you are setting aside the time you need to recharge properly and stay motivated in the long term.

Career Outlook

Now is an excellent time to pursue work in the field of human services. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an estimated growth rate of a whopping 12% for human services workers by 2031, outpacing the average growth rate for most other industries by more than double. With so many jobs available in the field of human services, it is quite possible to get entry-level work that may not require an advanced degree, allowing you to get a feel for the work that human services can entail before pursuing additional certification or further educational opportunities.

Specialized Certifications for Human Service Professionals

The best known human services certification is the Human Services Board Certified Practitioner, known in short as the HS-BCP. This asserts that you have completed 350 hours of post-degree field work and demonstrated competency in the core skills and areas of knowledge needed to become a human services professional.

Beyond that general certification, one can develop an area of specialization that helps focus your career and level up in the path that you have chosen. Some certificates relate to particular branches of human services, such as geriatrics, while others are designed to meet the needs of very particular jobs, such as medical administrators.

Examples of Human Services Titles

There is a tremendous number of job titles for those pursuing careers in human services in almost any arena that helps those who are struggling. Below are a few examples that demonstrate the wide range of specializations and responsibilities that a human services career can include.

Case Worker

For those who excel at intervention strategizing and implementation, a case worker role could be the perfect fit for your human service career. Case workers often are among the first professionals who assist those in need and help connect them to the best resources to suit their needs.

Health Education Specialists

Working in community centers, schools, and other care centers, health education specialists design educational programs to help communities and individuals meet their specific health needs. These roles tend to require specialized degrees with a background in biology or nutrition.

Public Policy Consultant

Those with strong leadership skills who excel at understanding complex legal matters are excellent candidates to become public policy consultants. Typically employed by nonprofit or public organizations, public policy consultants help their organization push for the policy initiatives that will best benefit their cause, often acting as a liaison between the organization and elected officials.

Behavioral Management Aide

Behavioral management aides act as assistants to behavioral management therapists and counselors in settings including schools, mental health centers, and community centers. This work provides exposure to the demanding work of being a behavioral management therapist and provides invaluable assistance to people performing a high-stress job.

Child Advocate

Child advocates work with children who need to go through the court system, whether because they are not living in a safe environment or because they are being tried in a delinquency case. They are hugely important resources for children who are without the means or experience to protect themselves.

Child advocates can also work for organizations that speak up on behalf of children, organizing educational initiatives and playing an important role in the development of policy that affects children in vulnerable situations.

Community Action Worker

Community action workers do boots on the ground work to provide vital resources like health care services and mental health support as well as creating educational programs and planning events designed to enrich their communities. Community action workers can be inspiring, energizing figures who bring people together and make a lasting impact.

Additional Human Service Occupations

For a list of additional human service titles and more information about the credentialing and educational background needed for each role, take a look at our Careers in Human Services page.

human services specialist

How Can I Become a Human Service Professional?

Now that you know the answer to the question, “What is human services?”, you can begin thinking about taking the next steps in your career. People can enter the field of human services at many levels, with entry-level positions to those who hold an associate’s degree or no degree at all. However, many who pursue human services careers choose to get a degree, whether through a human services major in an undergraduate program or a Master’s in Human Service. An advanced degree can provide you valuable field work experience, helping you enter the field at a higher level, with a salary likely to match.

Taking the Next Steps to Get a Human Services Degree

Across the country there are full-time and part-time options available for students to get degrees in human services that will help them further their careers and make their contribution to transforming our society for the better. To take a comprehensive look at degree programs available in your state, visit the state index on our homepage to see options in your area.

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