A Community Education Officer has a wide-ranging yet rewarding job promoting and organising education and training opportunities within the local community. If you are a firm believer in learning opportunities for all, and you want to work with people and help them to change their lives, then this work is really for you.
If you want to see if this kind of work is for you, try and get a voluntary position in a community centre or in a learning community venue first to get some insight into the daily reality of working in the third sector. It's not glam or suited and booted, and you may well miss this element of working life.
Where does the job lead?
The job can lead to all sorts of future careers as it is full of skills that can be easily transferred to another sector. I know of people who have gone onto be Housing Support Advisers, Adult Education Tutors and Career Advisers.
Why do it?
It’s a great job if you like every day to be different and you are a people person. Adult learners can be so grateful for the experience of learning. It can be really rewarding to help someone change their life for the better.
The aim of the Community Education Officer is to encourage learning at all levels from basic life skills to higher education and further education opportunities. Examples of courses that you will be organising are:
- communication skills, confidence building
- creative writing, cooking and budgeting
- parenting skills
- computer an internet skills
- preparing for employment, CV building
- introduction to higher education
- ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages)
Who will employ you?
The majority of Community Education Officers are employed in the voluntary sector, local government and public sector organisations. Colleges and universities also employ Community Education Officers as they seek to make higher education and further study more accessible within local communities.
With the recent introduction of higher university tuition fees in 2013, many universities have a legal remit to increase accessibility under the Office for Fair Access policy http://www.offa.org.uk/.
What skills do you need?
Good communication skills are very important, and a wide range of abilities including good IT and administration skills, marketing, management of volunteers (in some roles), liaison with external staff and even child care facilitation skills to enable open course access to lone parents.
An appreciation of diverse communities is necessary as is an understanding of methods of engagement for “hard to reach” groups. This includes those groups who may be under represented in main stream education such as long term unemployed people, asylum seekers, single parent families and young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEETS).
The role can be exciting and personally rewarding. Adults receive training and skills that they might not have had the opportunity to develop before and are ultimately developing their potential in direct response to the work you have done.
A Typical Day
While every day is essentially different and you definitely won't be sat at a desk all day long, you can expect to be doing any of the following:
- engaging with individuals and community groups, parents' groups and young people
- identifying local interests and needs and ways to meet them
- helping potential learners to overcome existing barriers to learning
- working with individuals to create learning plans and exit plans for after the course
- encouraging new learning opportunities through formal and informal classes, as well as individual tutoring and mentoring
- undertaking the administration and evaluation of provision and reporting to advisory bodies and management groups
What qualifications do you need?
Any degree discipline can apply, although some degrees will be more applicable than others, for example community education, youth work of social sciences. People without degrees but good experience in the voluntary sector will do well too.
How much will you earn?
Starting salaries in the public sector range from £23,500 - £28,000 although a junior entry role in the voluntary sector could start at a humble £17,000.
The good, the bad and the not so pretty
The nature of the work involves being able to make relationships with people, supporting them to reach their full potential and to encourage a future career or education plan. A lot of people don’t have confidence and it’s up to you to motivate them and keep them from disengaging, which is easily done when life is difficult.
The work is typically based in deprived areas where people can have multiple needs - they may be long term unemployed, vulnerably housed, and facing challenges in their personal lives. The stories you hear can be quite hard not to take home with you.
The job can be really rewarding but it can also be exhausting on a personal and professional level. You might be pressured to meet targets that are set by external funders, and meeting these can cause a lot of strain and worry to the team. There can be financial implications for the charity if the set targets are not met and you are unlikely to be the sort of person who is motivated by targets if you are attracted to this kind of job – you are probably more interested in the people.
The tricky bit
The most difficult element of the job is the job insecurity. My job (like many in the charity sector) was funded for two years. At the end of the two years my employer applied for new funding, with no guarantee of success. It can be a real worry not having the job security that exists for those with a permanent job in the private sector and it's something always at the back of your mind.
I don't regret my experience as a Community Education Officer. I met some great people, worked in a diverse community and helped to make some great things happen. Despite feeling "safer" in a permanent job now, it is thanks to my experiences in the voluntary sector that took me to the next step.