This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Community workers support people to develop and implement plans to make improvements in their community.
Community workers usually earn
$40K-$75K per year
Source: Careers New Zealand research, 2017
Pay for community workers varies depending on their experience and where they work.
- Community workers usually earn between $40,000 and $75,000 a year.
Source: Careers New Zealand research, 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Community workers may do some or all of the following:
- develop networks and encourage connections within a community
- encourage and support people to take leadership of community initiatives
- work with community members to identify their needs, aspirations and existing assets
- support community groups to develop realistic long-term plans, and implement them
- help people work through conflict and overcome barriers
- support community groups to access funding and set up partnerships with other organisations such as iwi, businesses and district and city councils
- apply for grants
- co-ordinate, establish, report on and maintain community projects
- monitor changes in communities and help community groups to build on successes and learn from failures.
Skills and knowledge
Community workers need to have:
- the ability to engage with diverse groups of people
- an understanding of approaches that focus on the strengths and assets of people and communities
- knowledge of project facilitation and reporting
- knowledge of applying for grants and report writing
- an understanding of advocacy, policies and government and community systems
- knowledge of the specific community they work in and its languages and cultures.
- may work irregular hours, including weekends and evenings
- work in offices, community centres and marae
- travel locally to attend meetings.
What's the job really like?
A vandalised park was a blank slate for Sue to work with
Sue Rei is revelling in her work at the Common Ground project in Taita, where she has a blank slate to realise her vision of empowering a community.
Since she started, the once-battered park now boasts a proud history of community events, a new children’s playground and two carved pou (greeting posts) built for the park by inmates at the local prison.
Sue hasn’t achieved this on her own, nor would she want to.
Helping people to dream their dreams and achieve their goals
Community development is about helping people in communities to realise their own dreams and navigate any barriers to achieving them. As her inspiring manager used to say, “We’re working to try and do ourselves out of a job.”
For instance, Sue worked with a group of local children to help them decide what they wanted in their playground, then helped them approach the council with their hopes.
Helping groups have the hard conversations for the good of everyone
Community work isn’t for the faint-hearted or those with big egos. “You’ve got to be open to the hard conversations, and facilitate them between factions who may not want to talk to each other” – which is why she refers to herself as a community weaver.
“You’ve got to understand it’s all about relationships, not about you. You’re helping other people engage with each other and build on their hopes. It’s not a ‘We’re here to help you,’ situation, rather you have to be able to see strength in everyone.
“It’s not always comfortable, but everybody’s got something to contribute”.
- The honour of meeting such a diversity of people from babies to kaumatua.
- Freedom to work outside a lot of the usual constraints.
- Helping people find strength and ways to make a system work.
- Dealing with those who knock what you do.
- When success isn’t celebrated or publicised by the media, but problems are.
- Working outside your comfort zone and having to question your own assumptions.
Pakhzin checks out jobs that could eventually lead to a career in community work – 7.00 mins. (Video courtesy of Ministry of Health)
Clinton: So Pakhzin is off to meet peer support worker Hayley Sher.
Hayley: Hi Pakhzin.
Pakhzin: Hi Hayley.
Clinton: Peer support workers work in the community with people who have suffered a mental illness, helping them on their road to recovery, but there are many therapy roles in the mental health sector, which Pakhzin will explore over the next couple of days, including music therapy, interactive drawing therapy, psychiatry and occupational therapy. First up Haley takes Pakhzin with her on a home visit to see Joyce who Hayley has been helping for some time.
Pakhzin: What kind of issues are you helping Joyce through at the moment?
Hayley: Joyce has had some anxiety problems so we’ve made a couple of goals and plans to help her deal with that.
Pakhzin: That sounds good.
Hayley: So how have you been?
Joyce: I’ve been good. I’ve been sleeping.
Hayley: When we first meet a service user, our aim is to build a rapport with them and it probably takes a couple of visits before we do anything else.
Clinton: Peer support workers keep in regular contact with their service users and this builds up trust – an important factor when it comes to helping sufferers like Joyce on the road to recovery.
Hayley: I was also thinking that Pakhzin is round about the same age as you so she might have some ideas of different places you could go to meet people.
Pakhzin: I was thinking, since you mentioned you liked rowing before, maybe you could join a sports team or club or something that would help you move on and help you meet new people and at the end of the day it makes you feel really good.
Joyce: That sounds good.
Clinton: The role of peer support and occupational therapy often complement each other and Joyce’s therapy is a case in point. Joyce was a keen swimmer and her anxiety attacks stopped her swimming but today she’s back in her local pool supported by her occupational therapist, Eve.
Pakhzin: It looks like she’s having fun.
Eve: Definitely, definitely. So this is something that Joyce used to enjoy and think was a lot of fun so hopefully by giving her another little go today she will be able to incorporate it back into her daily life.
Clinton: Peer support work is extremely varied and rewarding. The workers themselves meet many service users needing various forms of support. Josh was in a bad car accident and needs help to get back on the road. He has been working with Hayley on this and has agreed for our student, Pakhzin to join them today.
Josh: I’m just finding it really hard to get a job because they all need someone with a car licence to get around and be able to drive and I’m just really nervous and scared about it because I haven’t been back in a car since the crash.
Clinton: For Josh, getting back on the bike is the first step to getting back in the car.
Hayley: OK, well done. Keep going, keep going.
Hayley: A regular day for me as a peer support worker would entail meeting up with peers wherever they choose to meet. So often we could go to the beach and meet, we could meet in a coffee shop, we could meet in a park, and we sit and we work on our goals and our strengths wherever they choose to be so it’s varied day to day, depending on who you’re working with.
Pakhzin: That was really good Josh, you will be racing in no time.
Hayley: OK Josh, you’ve mastered the bike – how do you feel about hopping in the car for a little bit? Just sit in the passenger seat?
Josh: I’m a bit nervous.
Hayley: I know you’re nervous, but we can talk while we’re sitting and put the radio on.
Hayley: And if at any time you feel really, really bad, just tell me and we’ll jump out.
Hayley: It’s common for people who have physical injuries or have been in accidents and they’re not able to participate in their regular activities and their daily activities and they do become depressed because they’re not able to do what they used to do and often they just need help just to get over that hurdle.
Clinton: Careers in mental health are varied. Next, Hayley takes Pakhzin to have a look at another role within the field, that of a music therapist.
Pakhzin: So what does a music therapist do?
AJ: Music therapy is the planned use of music. Because there is something in music that relates to all of us and even if somebody is mentally unwell, music could hopefully still reach them.
Pakhzin: Do you have to be able to play a musical instrument to do this?
Ajay: A lot of things that we do with music therapy is improvisation and there is no need for the client to be able to play an instrument.
Pakhzin: Is there anything that you picked up from what I just played?
AJ: Yes, you were having fun!
Clinton: Another therapy that utilises the creative brain is that of interactive drawing therapy.
Pakhzin: So Russell, what does an interactive drawing therapist do?
Russell: It’s very similar to ordinary counselling or social work but whatever you talk about we get on the page, either in writing or images – drawings or symbols or whatever.
Russell: So the basic principles here is whatever you talk about you put on the page in writing or drawing or whatever, and whatever’s on the page you talk about. So it’s interactive but it’s very simple and it does take you closer and closer to yourself.
Clinton: Another career within the realm of mental health is psychiatry. Dr Sally Merry has been part of a research team that has designed and developed a self-help video game called Sparx, to identify and address teen depression in New Zealand. Pakhzin has come along to try it out.
Game: Sparx was made to help young people who feel down or depressed.
Clinton: The aim of the game is to complete the challenges successfully, move through the levels and fight off the evil "gnats".
Pakhzin: So what does “gnats” stand for?
Sally: For “gloomy and negative automotive thoughts”.
Pakhzin: That’s cool! So am I fighting off the gloomy, negative thoughts?
Pakhzin: So it’s giving a good, positive message so you kind of have the right state of mind while playing the game and it helps you feel better?
Sally: I think that’s right and I think that one of the most depressing things is to feel like you’re stuck forever and we know that people do recover from depression so it’s good.
Clinton: So how did Pakhzin find it?
Pakhzin: I found it to be really fun, I found out a whole lot about different jobs and some things that I never thought existed.
Clinton: To become a peer support worker you need to have had personal experience of mental illness and have gone through the process of recovery. It helps to enjoy working with people and have excellent communication skills. You must successfully complete training before starting employment and this is currently provided through peer support workers on site.
To become a community worker you need to have relevant paid or voluntary work experience in community engagement or development.
Tertiary qualifications in social work or social practice may be useful, particularly with strands in community development or management of non-profit organisations.
Project and event management training and experience is also useful.
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include English, maths and accounting.
Community workers need to be:
- outgoing and positive
- excellent listeners and communicators
- highly skilled at both leadership and facilitation
- able to establish clear professional boundaries between themselves and the community
- extremely well organised, with good planning skills.
It's important that you don't try and do it all for people. It's wonderful for people to contribute to projects and realise their potential.
Useful experience for community workers includes paid or volunteer roles in:
- youth work
- social work, counselling and local government work, particularly if it involves supporting and encouraging people
- community development or community organisations – especially if it involves community engagement
- leading a group or organisation.
Find out more about training
- Inspiring Communities
- firstname.lastname@example.org - inspiringcommunities.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Demand for community workers is good due to:
- the Government's $3.5 million community-led development programme, which includes funding for community development workers
- positions often being advertised for fixed terms
- high staff turnover
- the difficulty of getting staff with the right skill mix
- increasing awareness of the importance of building communities that can respond to emergencies.
Types of employers varied
Community workers are employed by a wide variety of employers including:
- social service providers such as Plunket
- local organisations such as charitable trusts
- faith-based organisations such as churches
- city and district councils.
Most community work is funded by grants of one to five years, and community workers may have a fixed-term contract for the same term.
- Department of Internal Affairs, 'Briefing to the Incoming Minister – Community and Voluntary Sector', October 2014, (www.dia.govt.nz).
- Goodhew, J, community and voluntary sector minister, '$3.56m programme to support our communities', (media release), 25 June 2016, (www.beehive.govt.nz).
- Malcolm, M-J and Courtney, M, associates, Inspiring Communities, Careers New Zealand interview, February 2017.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Schievink, M, manager, Department of Internal Affairs, Careers New Zealand interview, February 2017.
- Wilson, D, team leader, neighbourhood and community networks, Wellington City Council, Careers New Zealand interview February 2017.
Progression and specialisations
Community workers may move into team leader or project management roles.
Last updated 13 August 2017