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From Competencies to Curriculum: Building Career Paths for Frontline Workers in Behavioral Health

Randall Wilson

Workers on the front lines of behavioral health play a critical role in the care of people with mental illness, substance abuse problems, and other disorders, yet these staff members often lack clear guidelines and training on how to perform their roles. They also lack paths to higher-skilled, higher-paying occupations, leading many of the best to leave the field for better opportunities. This case study examines a unique effort to address this gap by identifying the competencies needed for frontline workers in behavioral health. It documents the work of a partnership anchored by the Philadelphia’s District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund (a joint labor-management partnership of a union) and two of the city’s leading employers serving people with mental illness.

The partnership is part of Jobs to Careers, a national initiative that is developing the skills and career paths of workers on the front lines of health and health care. The Philadelphia project uses job competencies as the foundation for creating a curriculum and career paths for frontline workers in behavioral health. From Competencies to Curriculum details why competencies matter, especially for jobs lacking formal credentials or career paths. And the project provides an example of what it means to take frontline workers’ jobs seriously—understanding workers’ contributions, while expanding their knowledge and their role in the care-giving process.