Community Services Worker instructor, Cindy Palmer (centre, red dress) with her students at the Herzing College Toronto campus
There's steady demand for community services workers in the GTA right now. In fact, employment in this field has seen strong growth over the past decade, all across Ontario.
Community services workers (CSWs) support at-risk, vulnerable populations in many different kinds of settings. They work in the health care and social assistance sectors—at group homes, shelters, schools, and with community organizations.
Considering this career path? Have questions about training and job options?
Cindy Palmer is the perfect person to talk to. She teaches the Community Services Worker program at Herzing College, and has extensive experience in the social work field.
We interviewed Cindy this week to get a better idea of what CSW training is like, and how to get your career started in Toronto.
So, read on to meet the teacher—and find out what to expect in class!
Q: Cindy, what's your background in social work? What organizations have you worked for?
Cindy: I started my journey studying Sociology and Psychology at the University of Toronto. Upon graduation I returned to school to study Human Services Counselling (now labelled Social Service Worker) at George Brown College.
I recently completed the Child and Youth Worker program at George Brown as well.
I work mostly in hospital settings as a front-line worker, including St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Sick Kids Hospital, University Hospital and Toronto General. I do have experience in smaller community organizations as well.
I have worked with various populations and ages, and in several different domains — including Addictions, Mental Health, Concurrent Disorders, Dual Diagnosis, Developmental and Exceptionalities.
Q: So, what exactly is a Community Services Worker (CSW)? What is this role all about?
Cindy: A CSW is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. The specific job description really depends on the needs of the organization, and the needs of your clients. One day you could be helping with an assessment and referral—and the next day you're problem-solving how to obtain underwear for your client. It really is about meeting your client where they are at.
But in general, CSWs work closely with people with mental health and addiction issues, at-risk women, newcomers to Canada, the LGBTQ community, the homeless, and the impoverished. Really anyone in the community who may need a voice or special support.
Q: What do you love most about working in this field?
Cindy: There is never a dull moment. Each day brings something new—a new challenge to overcome, a new problem that needs creative solutions. You get to meet so many different people from so many walks of life. And they all have a story to tell.
Q: What backgrounds do your CSW students come from? What inspires them to enrol?
Cindy: My students come from all sorts of backgrounds—often nothing even close to social work! You don't need a background in community service or social work to take this training.
A lot of my students are new to Canada. Many enrol in CSW training because they want a career that lets them help others and give back to their communities. They're motivated to make a positive impact in people's lives.
Q: What are the most important skills you teach in the Community Services Worker program?
Cindy: I think the most important skill we teach is the ability to truly listen. Active listening is not something many of us do on a daily basis. It's a skill that must be learned and practiced. We really try to focus on that.
Some students think they need to have all the right answers, and know exactly what to say in every situation. During training, they come to understand that this expectation isn't realistic.
Instead, students learn that the most important thing they can bring to each interaction is empathy and unconditional positive regard. That is at the heart of this field.
Q: Where do Herzing CSW grads get hired, right after graduation?
Cindy: Many Herzing graduates get hired from their internship! Herzing's career development team works directly with students, to find them their best fit depending on their interests and where they live in Toronto.
The truth is, Toronto has many organizations for finding an entry level position after graduation, such as shelters and community centres.
Q: Let's talk about social work myths. What are the most common misconceptions people have about CSWs?
Cindy: I think one of the biggest myths is that CSWs should have the answer to everything; that they are there to “fix” and solve everyone’s problems.
The truth is, there is much more to it than that. Social workers support and guide clients to solve their own problems—to set and achieve their own life goals, whatever they may be.
Community services workers are trained to provide assessments, counselling, resources, and encouragement. The goal is to help your clients feel strong, independent, and empowered.
Q: How does someone know they'd make a good CSW? What does it take to be successful in this role?
Cindy: Active listening, curiosity, and empathy are key in this field. Also, the ability to problem-solve with clients, and not take your work home with you will help you have a long and successful career.
Q: What part of CSW training do students usually enjoy most?
Cindy: I think students really enjoy the group process and counselling role-playing we do. Not at first! Everyone is shy and awkward in the beginning, but soon they find themselves diving right in.
Role playing usually starts as a really challenging part of training—but it quickly becomes a fantastic learning opportunity that students really enjoy.
Q: Where do CSW students do their internships?
Cindy: Students intern in a wide variety of organizations, including shelters, autism centres, welcome centres, day programs and community centres. Each student has a say in where they do their internship. They work closely with the career development team, who finds them placements based on their interests.
Q: What's the best part of teaching the Community Services Worker program at Herzing?
Cindy: I love just being able to talk with my students. Everyone comes from such diverse backgrounds, with all sorts of life experiences. It's amazing to hear all of their stories. We always make time to get to know each other, and laugh throughout the day. It's been a really great experience!
A huge thank-you to Cindy Palmer for talking with us this week. We're very lucky to have you on the faculty at Herzing College Toronto!
Learn more about the community services worker program
Herzing College offers a 12-month Community Services Worker program, which includes an 8-week internship. Courses are focused on hands-on training in interviewing, counselling, and connecting people with available community services and programs. Students graduate with real work experience in the area of community work they would like to pursue.
In 2018, 100% of our CSW program graduates were employed in a related field (statistic based on most recent available).
The CSW program is available on campus AND online, through Herzing FlexEd.
Wondering if the Community Services Worker program is right for you? We strongly recommend speaking with an Admissions Advisor. An Advisor will explain the full scope of the program, career options, admission requirements, tuition and financial aid options.
They will help you determine if you're a good fit for this career path, and exactly how to get started.
Click below to explore the program, and get in touch with an Advisor. We're here to help!