How to recruit the right mix of outreach workers for your HIV program? The right mix means there should be a balance between outreach workers from different backgrounds and operating in different social and sexual networks, so that the program can reach out to each and every corner of the overall population of men who have sex with men.
A classic mistake should be prevented here: Person A applies for a job as an outreach worker, and invites his two best friends, person B and person C to do the same. The result is that all three outreach workers will be operating in the same social network! In order to avoid this, it is important to recruit a diverse set of outreach workers. As a simple rule, the fewer outreach workers know each other before they started working, the better.
It is recommended to develop a recruitment plan that realistically identifies the number of candidates needed (compensating for expected turnover). It should reflect the desired age, level of education, sexual / gender identity and ‘class’. There should also be ideas on how/where to recruit outreach workers to ensure each of the diversity-boxes are ticked.
Do not rely solely on people who volunteer to be outreach workers – these are more likely to be from a specific sub-set of the target audience, not necessarily the people that are needed to bring in new segments.
Example: recruiting outreach workers
If your program/project aims to reach same-sex attracted high school students, it is important that outreach workers are recruited from different high schools. Or, if communication is deemed to flow easier between an outreach worker who is slightly older, from different Universities, with the understanding that each outreach worker works in a different high school.
If your program/project aims to work with male sex workers, it is imperative to recruit male sex workers from different sex work environments; one could, for example, be recruited from among venue-based male sex workers; one could be recruited from among those operating on the streets/in malls; a third could be recruited from those working in sex work ‘part-time’ to help pay for their studies, et cetera. Each of these outreach workers is likely to achieve very different results in terms of the type and number of male sex workers he will bring in for HIV testing…
It is a good idea to agree on a job description for outreach workers, and use this job description in a recruitment drive. In terms of target-setting, outreach workers may be given different targets based on how difficult-to-reach their target audience is. It may be more difficult to reach married MSM and bring them for testing than to reach young urban professionals who lead an openly-gay lifestyle.
When the process of interviewing and selection starts, it is important to have an agreed-upon list of selection criteria. Criteria can include:
Availability (including during evenings and weekends)
Age (i.e. appropriate for target audience – not too young, not too old)
Level of education
Acceptability by (particular segments of the) target audience
Previous working experience
Personal traits such as communication skills, leadership skills, team playing skills, charisma)
It is imperative to form a balanced team of outreach workers that represents these criteria across the target audience. Of course, individual outreach workers will never meet all criteria: some will be more charismatic, others more organised, others more communicative than others; the idea is that people in your outreach team complement each other and share their particular strengths with others, while learning from other team members’ strengths.
The extent to which outreach workers will reach their targets also depends on how experienced they are. For example, outreach workers may need a longer time to build trust with their target audience, and this may mean in the first few months they will be unable to reach the same number of clients than other outreach workers. In order for outreach workers not to lose their motivation, it is a good idea to agree on lower (or even no) targets during the first two months of their contract.
It is important to provide sufficient training to the outreach workers who you recruit; it may be a good idea to involve existing outreach workers in the process of skilling newcomers (see next section).
If recruitment of outreach workers is done the right way, the group of outreach workers employed in an organisation will be highly diverse. This will require some careful people-management. All outreach workers will need to agree to a set of basic rules in terms of being cordial and courteous, being respectful of people of all backgrounds, prohibiting gossip, and a few more!