What Does it Mean to Study Human Services?
A human services degree equips students with the skills required to serve clients in a variety of public outreach organizations. Human services graduates work alongside social workers, detectives, doctors, and other specialists who help individuals tackle major challenges in their lives. Many human services programs provide intervention for citizens with substance abuse problems or victims of crime or violence.
Types of Human Services Degrees
Colleges and universities offer a variety of human services degree programs for prospective students to choose from. With the proliferation of online learning programs, many busy professionals and working parents who could not make the commitment to an on-campus program can now complete their human services degrees on their own schedules.
If you have made a decision about the specialty you would like to pursue, maker sure your chosen college or university offers you access to experienced faculty members who share your passion. If you still do not know which area of human services you would like to specialize in, investigate programs that allow you to explore lots of options before committing to a concentration.
Diplomas, Certificates, and Associate Degrees
Certificate programs allow professionals to expand their skills in a specific area without forcing them to commit to a full social science degree program in human services. Associate degrees allow recent high school graduates to gain the minimum amount of specialized skills to gain an entry-level position in the human services field. Students can usually transfer credits from their certificate or associate programs toward a full Bachelor's degree when they decide to pursue further study.
Certificate programs for the human services field include: Certificate in Early Childhood Education, Certificate in Substance Abuse Counseling, Certificate as a Child Development Associate, Certificate as a Home Visitor Child Development Associate, and Certificate in Human Services.
The Bachelor's Degree in Human Services at most schools combines specific career-related courses with broad exposure to arts and humanities. By the end of the program, students have gained the ability to relate to clients on multiple levels. A degree in human services requires degree specific classes, such as abnormal psychology, group dynamics, developmental psychology, ethics and human services, and research design and evaluation.
What Can You Do With a College Major in Human Services?
A degree in human services provides a career category with diverse applications. Graduates holding a degree in human services often find employment in mental health care, group homes, adult day care facilities, substance abuse treatment centers, and elderly care centers. The need for employees in the human services field multiplies as the emphasis and need for social intervention programs increases.
Some of the potential openings for human services graduates include:
An administrator in the human services field oversees and directs other professionals. Administrators can run entire agencies, or they can be appointed to head up temporary projects or task forces. Administrators spend much of their time developing budgets that allow their team members to serve clients effectively. Many administrators spend large amounts of time lobbying politicians or other funding officials to maintain or increase project funding. Back at the office, administrators make sure that their team members stay within budget guidelines. They evaluate performance levels and coach individuals to work more effectively.
Adult Services Worker
Society's expanding understanding of the needs of mentally challenged individuals has helped create more consistent funding for adult services. Specialists in this field work with mentally or physically handicapped adults who may require assistance with work or family responsibilities. Some adult services workers operate in adult care facilities, where they relieve some of the burden from family caregivers.
In a variety of settings, a case manager works with a specific client to overcome their specific challenges. In many situations, case managers from different agencies must share information with each other about mutual clients to assure that the client receives consistent and appropriate assistance with all their challenges. Some case managers must also coordinate care through medical or corrections programs, especially when a client must learn to acclimate to private life after an extended stay in a hospital or in a correctional facility.
Child Welfare Worker
Human services professionals work in a variety of agencies that assure the welfare of children in their community. Some specialists provide support to unemployed or inexperienced parents, who need to learn to take good care of their children. Other professionals work with children who have been removed from their homes when their parents have committed crimes or proven themselves unable to care for children. In the most extreme cases, child welfare workers investigate reports of abuse and neglect. They work with law enforcement officials to pursue and prosecute bad parents.
Traditionally, many human services professionals that worked with prison inmates held jobs as parole officers and halfway house coordinators. In those roles, professionals helped convicted criminals learn new skills and adjust to their new lives as honest citizens. With today's emphasis on preventing crime, many corrections workers now assist convicts during their prison stays. By developing career skills workshops and behavior modification programs, human services professionals can help inmates prepare for their new lives long before their release dates.
Elderly Services Provider
As America prepares to enter an era in which more than half of its residents are over the age of sixty-five, agencies have been recruiting specialists who can meet the needs of this expanding population. Some human services professionals help older workers learn new job skills so they can remain active in the job market. Other elderly services providers work with residents of assisted living facilities, helping them recover from injuries or accommodating them in situations that residents can no longer handle on their own.
Substance Abuse Worker
As we understand more about substance abuse, people are less reluctant to seek help in their battles against drug and alcohol addiction. Whether assisting counselors at rehabilitation facilities or helping patients in a variety of outpatient recovery programs, human services professionals are helping to meet a high demand for substance abuse specialists.
Preparing for Human Services Career Opportunities
As health care companies and government agencies place more value on prevention instead of treatment, human services majors can expect to benefit from increased funding for treatment programs in both the public and private sectors. Government researchers anticipate growing demand for human services workers who specialize in elder care as our nation prepares for the largest wave of retirees in its history.
With constituents putting pressure on legislators to provide broader human services, governments have increased the size of their "shadow workforce" of human services professionals. By outsourcing important work to independent agencies under government contracts, human services professionals can provide targeted resources to individuals without having to deal with the bureaucracy of traditional agencies.
Many government organizations have taken a cue from private enterprise and evaluate their human services professionals in the same way that businesses often do. Therefore, many human services professionals can expect a higher quality of life at work, with support for caseloads and additional resources to prevent case overload. Agencies and administrators under public scrutiny rely on the transparency of their evaluation programs to guarantee continued funding for programs. In the same way, prospective employees can use public records to make educated decisions about whether to accept job offers.
Human Services Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2014, employment for social and human services assistants is projected to grow by about 22 percent through 2022. The long-term outlook for job opportunities is excellent, especially for educated applicants as employers are increasingly in search of employees holding degrees in human services.
Currently, more than half of the professionals employed in the human services field work in the health care and social assistance industries. More than one third of total employees worked in state and local government, primarily in welfare agencies and in agencies offering aid to mentally and physically challenged individuals.
Skills of Successful Human Services Professionals
Over the course of their degree programs, human services majors develop a set of skills that serve them well throughout their careers. These skills allow professionals to assess a client's case and provide appropriate intervention or other services.
- Counseling skills. Though human services graduates have not received sufficient training to work as certified counselors, they often work on the front lines in agencies and offices that help clients in need of emotional support. Therefore, many human services degree programs provide students with basic counseling skills and training in crisis intervention. Human services graduates can staff the phones at counseling centers or work at the front desks of recovery clinics with the confidence in their ability to provide emergency counseling in situations where certified counselors are unavailable. Some human services graduates use these skills as the foundation for counseling careers later in life.
- Understanding child development. Human services degree candidates learn the basics of child development to better serve clients who are under eighteen years of age. In addition, the work of many human services agencies can positively impact the lives of children by improving the lives of clients. Caregivers and support personnel learn to measure the impact of their work on the children of their clients, and learn to intervene on a child's behalf when necessary.
- Understanding human services administration. Because a myriad of local, state, and federal agencies oversee various branches of health and human services, students learn how to work effectively within a complex bureaucracy. Human services majors study the distinctions between the private sector and government agencies, to understand which professionals to call upon when working with clients.
- Management skills. Because most agencies reward human services professionals who take on additional responsibilities over the course of their careers, many human services degree programs offer students the opportunity to enhance their management skills. By learning effective leadership strategies, students can prepare themselves to oversee staffs of professionals and volunteers. Students can also prepare themselves for the challenges of keeping teams of human services professionals motivated, especially in times of stress.
- Planning and organizational skills. Because many human services professionals work on special outreach projects and research initiatives, quality degree programs help students develop the ability to manage their time effectively. Human services majors learn how to juggle many tasks at once, while staying focused on the most important needs of their clients. By role playing and by building crucial team-building skills during their degree programs, human services students can prepare themselves to work in fast paced environments without sacrificing their attention to detail.
- Creating concise reports and essays. Human services professionals must learn to evaluate clients and report their conditions effectively and accurately. Simultaneously, administrators can find themselves overwhelmed with case reports. Therefore, human services degree programs emphasize the ability to condense information without losing important details or nuances. Because case reports might travel through a series of connected agencies and insurance providers, case workers must understand how to express a client's condition without the use of jargon or shorthand.
- Working knowledge of substance abuse. Most human services professionals deal with substance abuse issues at some levels. Some case workers help clients face their alcoholism or drug abuse challenges directly. Other human services professionals must deal with the aftermath of substance abuse when helping displaced children or unemployed workers. Understanding the root causes, symptoms, and treatments of substance abuse can help human services workers identify clients or other individuals that may be in need of urgent assistance.
- Ability to recognize trends and patterns. Many human services workers, especially professionals who conduct regular field work, often have to piece together profiles of their clients or communities. By relying on first-hand experience, human services professionals can identify clues that clients or interviewees might be reluctant to divulge on their own. Especially in cases of child welfare and substance abuse, human services professionals must develop the ability to act as detectives to assure their agencies that commitments are being met by clients who want to rebuild their lives.
- Oral communications skills. Human services majors learn to speak clearly and effectively to other people in a variety of settings. Professionals must be able to interview clients and other people effectively, without introducing questions that could affect the results of research projects or investigations. Case workers must be able to update their superiors on client progress. They should also be able to testify in court proceedings, especially in cases of child endangerment or substance abuse. Frequently, a person's future relies on a human services professional's ability to relate information clearly and effectively.
- Grant writing skills. Many human services programs rely on the financial support of government agencies or private foundations. To maintain current levels or service or to expand service to new groups of clients or communities, human services professionals must consistently validate their techniques and results by writing complex funding proposals. Human services majors learn how to write grant proposals that get results for their communities. By matching up sources of funding with worthy causes, human services professionals can dramatically impact the lives of individuals and entire communities.
- Research skills. Whether they are investigating a client's case or hunting for evidence in advance of a funding proposal, human services professionals rely on a variety of research skills. Quality human services degree programs provide students with solid interviewing skills as well as the ability to digest important information from research studies and academic journals. Highly skilled human services professionals can digest information from multiple sources into concise reports that back up their opinions.
Human Services Certification and Licensure
Depending on their specialties, human services workers may require specific state licenses to gain employment after graduation. Human services degree programs often include preparation for any required examinations as part of the curriculum. Students should verify any necessary licensure policies with the government in their home state, or the states in which they intend to practice.
Many government agencies require prospective job candidates to pass proficiency examinations, which can include tests on general procedures as well as situational essay questions or even role playing exercises. Again, human services degree programs will prepare specialists to pass these examinations.
Finally, most government agencies that employ human services professionals require job candidates to pass a drug and alcohol screening. These tests assure employers that their new hires will remain focused and effective on the job. In addition, these screenings assure that clients who are wrestling with their own substance abuse issues will not be working with case workers or other individuals who could inadvertently jeopardize their progress.
"Social and Human Service Assistants," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-and-human-service-assistants.htm