Becoming a Human Services Assistant: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in human services assisting? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a human services assistant is right for you.
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Human Services Assistant Career: The Pros and Cons

Human services assistants take on a variety of tasks that support the work of social workers and other healthcare professionals in order to enhance clients' lives through assisting them in their economic situation, emotional wellness, health or overall quality of life. Below are a few pros and cons to consider before becoming a human services assistant.

Pros of a Human Services Assistant Career
High employment growth (22% from 2012-2022)*
Minimal postsecondary education requirements for most jobs (short-term on-the-job training)*
Improve the daily lives of families or individuals*
Multiple employment industries*

Cons of Human Services Assistant Career
Low wages (average yearly salary was $31,860 in 2014)*
May require evening/weekend work*
Stressful and emotionally charged position*
Possibility of unsafe working with certain clients**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and **National Organization of Human Services

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

The duties and responsibilities of human services assistants vary widely depending on your employment. If you land a position in a governmental social service agency, expect to work with clients applying for government benefits or services. Your job could entail helping social workers and healthcare professionals execute treatment plans if you work in rehab facilities, hospitals or other healthcare settings. In some cases, assistants help clients improve basic life and social skills. Heading up group activities, ensuring clients adhere to their treatment plans and working with clients' families are all possible duties. In short, working in this field is about finding or providing services that improve an individual's quality of life in a myriad of ways.

Helping others achieve important life skills or get assistance can be rewarding, but it can be stressful. Working with clients facing considerable physical or psychological challenges can be demanding emotionally. Working on the weekends or the evenings is not unheard of and neither is traveling to clients.

Job Growth and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that qualified human services assistants are expected to face higher than average demand, 22% growth from 2012-2022, when compared with all other industries. This is partially due to the baby boomer generation is getting older and they're driving up the demand for a variety of human services, particularly those related to healthcare. Job opportunities are expected to be more plentiful in private companies than in government agencies. Though jobs are abound, be aware that your expected income will be on the low side - BLS data from 2014 shows that most assistants earned between $19,870 and $47,520.

Career Skills and Requirements

While it is possible to work in human services assisting with a high school diploma and some on-the-job training, employers tend to seek those with some amount of college education. Associate degree and certificate programs in human services, gerontology, psychology or other social sciences are appropriate for the human services assistant. Typical requirements include coursework in the social sciences, abnormal behavior, intervention and ethics in human services. Gaining skills in interviewing and assessing clients' behaviors are also important. In addition to learning how to work with a variety of population groups, you'll take part in an internship or practicum experience.

Keep in mind that some positions may require additional education, such as a bachelor's degree in human services or social work. These further education requirements are usually associated with jobs involving direct client care, counseling and activity leadership.

Top Skills for Human Services Assistants

As a human services assistant, you'll need excellent communication skills to work effectively with social work or healthcare professionals in addition to clients. Although employers work diligently to prevent such occurrences, the possibility of danger when working with clients who have psychological conditions can't be ruled out. According to the National Organization for Human Services, other needed skills and qualities include:

  • Strong people skills
  • Patience and understanding
  • Time management skills
  • Responsibility and self-discipline

What Real Employers Are Looking For

Current job opportunities seem to follow the BLS's projection that more opportunities will be available with private employers rather than government agencies. A substantial portion of the job postings reveal that healthcare agencies are in need of assistants. Although employers vary in their education requirements for candidates, they all expect assistants to have experience working with the served population. The following job posting samples are real, but they are provided as merely a snapshot to give insight into what employers were looking for in March 2012.

  • A community health clinic in Wisconsin is advertising for a full-time human services assistant to handle administrative tasks and assist with patient care. The employer prefers an assistant with a degree in human services or medical assisting, but the minimum requirements are a high school diploma and knowledge of medical terminology, as well as two years of experience.
  • An Illinois facility offering long-term nursing care, rehabilitation services and short-term respite care is looking for a part-time social service assistant. This position involves a mix of administrative work, personal assistance for residents and conflict resolution. While academic requirements are not outlined, the employer does expect the assistant to have more than 15 years of human services experience working with the elderly.
  • A short-term rehabilitation and long-term skilled nursing facility in Delaware is in need of a full-time social service assistant. The employer requires a bachelor's degree in social work or a human services-related discipline, as well as 15 years of experience, particularly in the areas of discharge planning, public insurance programs and long-term care.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Advancement through Education

Being that working as a human or social service assistant does not have a set minimum education requirement, obtaining a college degree in human services or social work could help you stand out among other applicants. If you want to be more involved in case management, most employers expect you to possess a bachelor's degree. Participating in a college human services program at the associate or bachelor's level gives you some real-world work experience in the field through internships or practicum experiences. This can further enhance your resume since employers typically expect candidates to have relevant experience.

Specialization

Human services academic programs usually offer courses covering a variety of population groups. If you have a particular interest, it is wise to gain experience in that specialty. For instance, if you want to work with the elderly, try to land an internship in a long-term nursing care facility. Consider doing some relevant volunteer work because this not only gives you experience, but also shows your dedication to employers.

Alternate Career Paths

Home Health Aide

With the BLS estimating a growth rate of 70% from 2010-2020, opportunities for home health aides surpass even the fast-growing human services assistant occupation. This profession may be right for you if you are more interested in assisting clients in a healthcare context. Working under the supervision of a healthcare professional, you help with basic health monitoring, such as checking vital signs or administering medications, as well as clerical tasks. Those working for facilities that receive government funding must obtain certification, but training programs only require 75 hours. The high demand and fast training times are positives, but be aware that the mean annual earnings are even less than human service assistants at $22,000, according to 2011 BLS data.

Occupational Therapy Aide or Assistant

Other career paths that involve working with individuals with physical or psychological conditions are occupational therapy aides and assistants. Occupational therapy involves helping clients develop the skills needed to perform the tasks of daily living and obtain employment.

Aides usually receive on-the-job training so they can perform administrative tasks, in addition to preparing equipment for therapy sessions. Assistants, on the other hand, help occupational therapists execute treatments for clients. Their hands-on involvement requires regulation in most states, which typically involves earning an associate degree. The expected employment growth for both aides and assistants is at 41% from 2010-2020, reports the BLS. As of May 2011, aides earned a mean annual wage of $32,000, and assistants earned $52,000.

Social Worker

If working in human or social services seems to be a good fit, but you want to be more involved in counseling or program development, consider becoming a social worker. Social workers coordinate and provide services that help people dealing with a variety of life challenges, ranging from chronic disease to substance or domestic abuse. You can enter the field with a bachelor's degree, but having a master's degree in social work is often required in school or clinical settings. All social workers must be licensed or regulated in some way by the state they work in.

Overall, the estimated job growth for social workers from 2010-2020 is 25%. Those working in medical, public health, substance abuse and mental health have even greater prospects. The BLS stated the mean annual wage data shows social workers earned from $43,000-$54,000, with those working in mental health and substance abuse earning the least at $43,000 as of May 2011.

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