A Helping Profession: Human Services Workers Provide Support, Advocacy

February 8, 2018

Helping others has its own rewards, but it’s also something that you can make a career out of.

“Jobs in the human services area are expected to grow by a minimum of 12 percent between 2014-24,” said Jamilla Jenkins-Nelson, a human services instructor at Piedmont Technical College. “It’s a rewarding career because you help people cope with life’s challenges.”

Human services workers are found in numerous government agencies and nonprofit programs, serving young and old, individuals and families. Opportunities are diverse. Human services workers could be handling duties such as case management from an office, or they could be out in the community visiting clients and conducting assessments.

“The field of human services has developed out of social work programs,” Jenkins-Nelson said. “Many of the jobs are similar.”

But while professional social workers have bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees, a career in human services can begin with a two-year degree. PTC offers an Associate in Applied Science degree program in human services with both day and evening scheduling options.

“Students will learn basic, entry-level skills, such as human behavior, crisis intervention and family dynamics,” Jenkins-Nelson said. The program prepares students to seek the Human Services-Board Certified Practitioner credential. “Our students test for that after they finish their degree at Piedmont Tech.”

Along with classroom work, PTC’s human services students venture out for 270 hours of supervised field work, which provides a real-life perspective. “We need them to understand the diverse nature of what they will be doing in their jobs,” Jenkins-Nelson said.

Students serve with organizations such as Meg’s House, a shelter for domestic violence victims that serves Edgefield, Greenwood and McCormick counties.

“They work very closely with our students,” Jenkins-Nelson said.

In addition to shelter services, Meg’s House provides case management and general advocacy for clients, who may need help with housing, employment, or navigating government systems. Lauri Rooney, shelter services program coordinator, says PTC students are trained on multiple tasks, such as answering the abuse hotline.

“They do what we do,” Rooney said. “They are working with our clients directly and learning to be advocates.”

Rooney added that one student has already been hired to work full time as a house monitor.

“It’s been great working with the Piedmont Tech students,” Rooney said. “It seems they have a good rapport with our clients. They take advice, they can apply the advice and they’re really hard workers.”

Rooney herself earned a human services degree from Piedmont Tech in 1996.

“I really enjoyed Piedmont Tech,” she said. “The human services program provides a great opportunity.”

It’s an opportunity that can be seized by those who are new to the field as well as those who have experience and want a credential to improve their career prospects. Entry-level jobs in human services pay an average salary of $28,850. As of May 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there were 4,730 workers in the category of “social and human service assistants” in South Carolina.

The BLS predicts that job growth in human services will occur due to the nation’s growing elderly population, as well as rising demand in general for health care and social services. Locally, Jenkins-Nelson said she’s witnessing a rising need for home health care workers and those who can work with the elderly.

With demand growing for human services workers, PTC program graduates have enjoyed an 86 percent job placement rate between 2014-16.

“There’s going to be a need,” Jenkins-Nelson said. “Students that graduate from our program have good prospects.”

What makes a good human services worker? Very often, they are a “people person,” according to Jenkins-Nelson.

“Most of our students have a passion for people,” she said. “Many students also want to be change agents.”

That’s important, because a human services worker doesn’t always see people on their best days.

“People seek out social services because there’s some type of issue in their life,” Jenkins-Nelson said of clients. “It’s a pretty big responsibility.”

Which is why she does volunteer work and advocates for troubled young adults.

“If you can change just one person, you have the potential to change generations that follow,” Jenkins-Nelson said.

And what can be more rewarding than that?