Champion boxer and social activist Muhammad Ali once said, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth." How would you like to live that maxim and also pay the actual rent in the process? If that sounds appealing, a career as a community service manager may the right one for you.
Community service managers dedicate their lives (or at least 40 hours per week) to helping community members access the social services they need, from food and housing to health information and counseling. Armed with an education—often in social work or public health—and experience in the field, community services managers make sure:
Becoming a community service manager is a tough but gratifying job, ideal for those who relish helping others.
In this article, we'll cover:
Community service workers provide necessary and valuable help to their neighbors and environments. If you know someone who receives free daycare services, meals or food donations, or health education, there's a good chance they've been helped by a community service worker. A community service manager likely oversaw whatever process provided that service.
The frustration of the job leads some to pursue leadership or public administration positions in an effort to promote positive changes in the field. Many others, however, give up; there's a high attrition rate in the community service profession. If you're easily disappointed, community service work might not be the career for you.
Test the waters by volunteering for a community service organization and paying attention to what your manager does with his or her time. Or, you could take a related course at a local community college. You might even consider shadowing a manager or case worker to get a better sense of the kind of work you'd be doing.
Community service manager is no one-track career path. There are many kinds of community service manager jobs in, among others:
The top employers of community service managers in 2016 were individual and family services organizations; these accounted for just over a quarter of the jobs in the field. Religious organizations, nonprofits, and professional groups employed another 12 percent of all community service managers; local government snapped up another 11 percent, with nursing and residential care facilities hiring about as many.
Many community service managers coordinate programs, ensuring that community members are aware of and can access the services and benefits that should be provided to them. Others work in budget management,, policy implementation, and issue advocacy. Managers work with everyone from children to senior citizens, handling situations from homelessness and substance abuse to unemployment and food instability.
Those who work for government organizations or nonprofits might focus on one specific area of community service, while those who work for smaller, more local organizations might wear many hats, coordinating a variety of services.
Most community service manager positions require a bachelor's degree, as well as a few years of experience in the field. Applicable degrees include:
These liberal arts degrees typically require four years of full-time study.
Some community service manager jobs require a master's degree, most often in social work (MSW) or public health (MPH). These degrees typically take two years to complete—including volunteer work and service learning—though accelerated, part-time and online programs do exist.
Because community service manager jobs require mentoring younger staffers, some work experience is usually necessary. Your work history should show a grasp of community engagement and connections with community partners by working as a case worker, as an assistant in a social services agency, or even as a service provider yourself. Once on the job, you'll likely be required to continue taking classes to maintain skills.
Becoming a community service manager requires education and work experience, but there's no formal licensure or accreditation needed. That said, some employers will seek licensed and/or clinical social workers with a background in areas such as mental health. Becoming a licensed social worker is a years-long process that requires:
Some community service managers might start out as case managers after earning their bachelor's degrees, then work their way up to community service manager positions without ever earning a graduate degree. Others have master's degrees in areas outside social work, such as public health, business administration, or psychology.
Let's face it: Community service managers have a tough job. Fortunately, there's help online:
Many community service managers begin their careers as case workers, assistants, or community health workers. These entry-level careers can help someone gain both experience and a better understanding of the needs and inner-workings of their community. After a few years as an underling, it may be time to take on a managerial position, coordinating the efforts of those just beginning their careers. Some managers go on to become community service directors, while others transfer to more specialized positions in the field. Because so many government and nonprofit organizations have a staff hierarchy, there can be plenty of room for growth.
Your terminal position will likely depend on the degree you've earned. Some organizations might require their managers and/or directors to have a master's degree or even PhD, and may cover the cost of tuition for long-time employees. Another degree can open doors and allow for more specialization, such as working as a health services manager in long-term care.
Others might choose to leave the community service field after several years, switching to other helping careers such as clinical social work or health education. Some might even work as an advocate for social services or mental healthcare in a private practice setting. Working as a community service managers can provide an excellent foundation for a career in other helping fields. Fortunately, a bachelor or master's degree in a field related to community service management, such as social work or public health, can transfer to a variety of careers, such as counseling or government service. There are alternative careers to consider as well in philanthropy, human resources, social innovation, and mediation. The same skills that serve you as a community service manager are also valued in those professions.
Because the types of services available to community members are constantly changing, it's critical that a community service manager stay up-to-date on the latest legislation and practices. Some may choose to continue their education, applying for another degree program. That might mean a master's in public health, or even a doctorate in social work. Managers can pick up new skills, gain more insight into available services, and pivot to alternative careers.
Certain workplaces might require community service managers to take Continuing Education Units, or CEUs, in order to stay up-to-date on best practices. Having taken classes in certain subject areas can also help on a job hunt, should managers choose to take the next step.
Muhammad Ali, whom we quoted at the beginning of this article, once said: "Don't count the days. Make the days count." Working as a community service manager is certainly one way to make the days count; you'll be helping people who might otherwise not get the help they need. You will run into obstacles, but as—you guessed it—Muhammad Ali once opined: "Impossible is just a word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it." Community service managers explore that power. To them, impossible is just a word.
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