The best public health care, human or social services, or treatment or assistance options in the world aren’t worth anything at all if they don’t reach the intended targets.
And because those target populations are often inherently hard to get a hold of by virtue of the very hardships they are suffering—disease, homelessness, mental instability, drug dependency—it takes a very tenacious, empathetic, and skilled individual to get those services out to the people who need them.
That person is a community outreach worker.
What Does a Community Outreach Specialist Do?
Community outreach workers are marketers on steroids, equipped with both people-skills and an active and evolving toolkit of behavioral health techniques to help them get social and public health services to their target demographics.
They are often employed by local governments, nonprofit organizations, or hospitals. They can work at high levels, coordinating outreach campaigns designed to inform or influence target populations, or they might hit the pavement, searching out either individuals they are familiar with who need services, or identifying new candidates.
They might make referrals or recommendations for other professionals to deliver services, or they might offer some services independently. Often they serve as de facto case managers for individuals who have fallen between the cracks of other programs, tying together multiple services providers to get people the help they need.
The role might also be called:
- Community Outreach Coordinators
- Outreach Activity Specialist
- Community Engagement Specialist
- Community Connector
- Public Outreach Specialist
How Community Outreach Intersects with Applied Behavior Analysis
Schooled in sociological, behavioral, and medical matters, community outreach specialists educate, sign up, and intervene where necessary to deliver assistance where it’s most needed in the community.
Driving healthy behavior in the target populations often involves either the promotion or direct implementation of applied behavioral strategies.
Community outreach workers have two different intersections with the world of applied behavior analysis:
- First, they are often promoting or recommending behavioral health therapies as part of their standard set of resources. Having some familiarity with how that therapy works and who it’s right for is helpful in identifying people for referrals.
- Second, they may make use of behavioral expertise in their own outreach efforts, devising campaigns that make use of prompting and antecedent intervention techniques as a way to encourage community members to seek the help they need.
Community Outreach Worker Job Description
Organization is a key skill to have as an outreach worker, as most days will involve coordinating between one or more different agencies or service providers and clients. Communication and documentation skills are important for both coordinating services and demonstrating the effectiveness of your efforts.
Planning outreach efforts and campaigns is another organizational demand. Using your knowledge of your target population and of various marketing techniques, including social media, behavioral, traditional advertising, newsletters and branding strategies, you’ll devise new ways to connect people with the services your program offers. You might also identify new target audiences based on your observations of how well current efforts are working or not working.
Education is also a fundamental part of the job. That can take the form of creating and leading classes in health and safety for vulnerable populations, or it can mean reaching out to various professionals, such as social workers, medical providers, or behavioral therapists to advertise resources available to them.
You will also make referrals of your own, when you identify situations requiring specialized attention that you either can’t provide or that your agency does not deliver. This can mean contacting law enforcement, the Red Cross, community health organizations, suicide prevention organizations, and others depending on the nature of the problem.
How To Become a Community Outreach Specialist
At the most basic level, the essential qualification to become a community outreach specialist is to be someone who cares and is willing to reach out to those in need of help.
Many outreach specialists enter the profession on non-traditional paths, called to it when they see a need. But if you are preparing to start a career in outreach, you can boost your chances by getting the right kind of education and certification for your chosen position.
What Kind of Education Do You Need to Become a Community Outreach Specialist?
In most cases, a bachelor’s degree will be enough to qualify you for a role in community outreach. Although many positions don’t specify a major, depending on the services you are reaching out for, a degree in health care, social work, psychology, applied behavior analysis, or counseling might be useful.
A master’s degree is always a welcome boost to both expertise and qualifications for community outreach workers. Getting subject-specific training at a high level will qualify you for the best paying jobs, and open up more interesting opportunities. You’ll generally be exposed to more communication training and have the opportunity to work hands-on in experiential learning courses that place you on the streets under expert supervision to hone your skills.
Depending on the target population, fluency in another language may be required too.
Is a License or Certification Required for Community Outreach Specialists?
Community outreach workers don’t need to be licensed in any state, but depending on their level of personalized service delivery, some employers may require certain specialty certifications or affiliated counselor designation, such as becoming a Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) through the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters if you’re going to be providing outreach for medical services specifically in communities with non-native English speakers.
Language skills are frequently an important addition to the toolbox of outreach specialists working in multicultural communities. Many non-native speaking populations are among the most underserved, so it’s common for outreach specialist positions to require either a certification or demonstrated skills in one or more foreign languages.
Positions that are heavily focused on direct health education may also require that you obtain a Certified Health Education Specialist credential (CHES) from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing. This certification requires that you hold a bachelor’s degree in a health education field, and pass an exam evaluating your skills in seven distinct competency areas. An advanced version, the MCHES (Master Certified Health Education Specialist), can be obtained after accruing five years of experience in the field in addition to meeting the CHES requirements.
Typical Salary For Community Outreach Specialists
Community outreach specialists fall into the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) category of Health Education Specialists. For 2021, BLS found that the median pay for these professionals came in at $60,600 per year, or $29.13 per hour. The job outlook for the role between 2018 and 2028 is estimated to increase by 11 percent, or much faster than the average job growth rate in the country.
Like other healthcare-related professions, salary can be heavily dependent on location. In 2021, Washington D.C. was the top paying region nationally for community health workers, with an annual mean wage of $94,610. Maryland and Georgia also came in with solid salary figures, hovering around $90,000 annually.
At the metropolitan level, the Washington, D.C. region was the highest-paying in the country, with a mean annual wage of $99,490.
Industry is also an important driver of salary level, with outreach specialists working for hospitals generally making more than those employed by government, social advocacy organizations, or in individual and family services roles.
But regardless of your location or industry, you’ll be entering a field with many opportunities, tremendous independence, and a great deal of job satisfaction on tap.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Health Education Specialists reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed January 2023.