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Promoting careers in addiction treatment

May 27, 2009
by Kevin Kolus, Contributing Editor
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Edu2Work promotes the profession in North Carolina

The Governor’s Institute on Alcohol & Substance Abuse in North Carolina is finding ways to recruit potential counselors for the field. Or, as its slogan proclaims, the Institute is “fostering partnerships.” That’s also how Larry Woodard, MHSA, CSAC, describes the program’s goal.

Woodard, the Institute’s workforce education director, devotes much of his time discovering and educating young people interested in careers in substance abuse treatment through Edu2Work, a nonprofit outreach initiative managed by the Institute (which is funded by the North Carolina Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services). By offering scholarships and holding local career fairs (some have received live radio and TV coverage), Edu2Work’s main objective is to captivate college students’ interest by promoting the benefits of the profession.

Various agencies set up booths at a recent career fair held by the Governor’s Institute on Alcohol & Substance Abuse in Greensboro, North Carolina. Photos by Brandy Baldwin

“We connect with the different colleges and universities in North Carolina, provide them with various materials, and update them with what is going on in the field,” Woodard explains. “We also use it as a springboard with faculty members and help drive curriculum changes to infuse substance abuse into students’ education.”

Edu2Work provides training in evidence-based practices and works as a portal to promote the Institute’s other activities, says Mary Powell, MHA, the Institute’s associate executive director of programs. And its career fairs also help connect treatment providers with counselors looking for work or students interested in the field.

“North Carolina is in a unique situation in that our public substance abuse services and agencies have been we’ve had a lot of new agencies come into the state or form in the state,” Powell explains. “When you have five or six agencies providing services in a county, it’s more confusing for someone to figure out who is hiring.”

Belying the current state of the nation’s economy, substance abuse counseling is a growing profession that is paying dividends. Powell notes that salaries have tripled in the past decade, and the federal government says it is one of the fastest growing professions.

“There haven’t been in the last decade and a half enough new people coming into the field to supplement the gap in baby boomers retiring,” Powell points out.

That’s where Edu2Work attempts to make a difference. Woodard says that by offering networking opportunities with not only other students, but potential employers as well, the program is creating relationships that lead to careers—and the closing of that workforce gap. And he, too, has noticed increased interest in the field.

“One of the reasons for the growing interest is that young people have a sincere yearning to want to give back and help others,” Woodard says.