The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, in collaboration with the University of Alaska and the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services, sponsored the development of the Alaskan Core Competencies for Direct Care Workers in Health and Human Services. The project was designed and staffed by the WICHE Mental Health Program and the Annapolis Coalition. Download the Competencies.
The competencies are designed to guide skill development for direct care workers, who are at times referred to as direct support workers, direct support professionals, paraprofessionals, or technicians. In terms of educational background, direct care workers typically have a high school diploma or GED. Their job preparation often involves a brief course or on-the-job training. While they provide a large proportion of the health and human services delivered in the US, too seldom do they receive either training or an assessment of their skills that is competency-based.
The Alaskan Core Competencies are organized around 10 broad competency categories, which contain a total of 42 individual competencies. Each competency is defined by behavioral descriptors at three levels of performance: satisfactory, unsatisfactory and excellent.
A Cross-Sector Approach
These competencies are “core” in the sense that they include the basic skills necessary to work in most areas of health and human services, including, but not limited to: mental health, addictions, developmental disabilities, child development, long-term care, traumatic brain injury and community-based juvenile justice. They were derived by comparing and integrating competencies that had been identified separately for direct care workers in these different health and human services fields. The Alaskan Core Competencies are relevant to providing services in all geographic regions of the country, but explicitly incorporate skills that are essential in rural and frontier areas where direct care workers may function with limited support or supervision and face unique challenges.
Using the Competencies
The competencies are designed to be used in multiple ways. They can guide the initial training and the continuing education of direct care workers, shaping both the selection of educational topics and the development of training content. Existing training curricula should be updated to incorporate these competencies. A simple tool for comparing the content of training programs with the Alaskan Core Competencies is available below.
Additionally, the Alaskan Core Competencies can serve as the basis for assessing the performance of direct care workers or individuals being trained for direct care positions. Tools for assessing trainee and workforce performance on these competencies have been developed and are available below.
Widespread adoption of the Alaskan Core Competencies is intended to benefit workers, their employers and the individuals who receive services. If such adoption occurs, direct care workers should benefit from improved orientation, training and continuing education; develop increased professionalism; experience greater job mobility; and have more opportunities for career advancement. Employers should benefit by having a better prepared workforce, a larger pool of potential job applicants, and reduced employee turnover. Most important is the potential benefit to individuals with health and social services needs who should receive improved access to safer and more effective care.
How the Competencies Were Developed
Detailed descriptions of the methods used to develop the Alaskan Core Competencies are contained in two project reports, which can be accessed below.
For information about Alaska’s Committee on Workforce Competency (CWC), download the Overview.
While the Alaskan Core Competencies can be used as the basis for training and performance evaluation, they can also be employed to strengthen existing training curricula and competencies. The Comparison Tool has been developed as an aid for systematically reviewing curricula or other competency sets to determine the extent to which they cover the Alaskan Core Competencies. With the knowledge generated from that comparison, those curricula or competencies can be updated to incorporate these core competencies. While the competencies were designed for direct care workers who have not had the benefit of higher education in health and human services, they contain basic helping skills that are relevant to and should be incorporated into associate, bachelors, and graduate level education as well. Download the Comparison Tool.
Competency Assessment Tools
The capacity to assess individual trainees and employees on the Alaskan Core Competencies is essential for training, professional development, and personnel evaluations. Without practical methods of assessment, it is difficult to determine the impact of training or the capacity of employees to perform their duties.
With oversight from Alaska’s Committee on Workforce Competency, staff from the Annapolis Coalition and WICHE Mental Health Program identified best practices used nationally in evaluating individual competence. Based on this information, six assessment tools were developed and tailored specifically for the Alaskan Core Competencies.
These tools are to be used as part of a Collaborative Competency Building approach in which the employee and supervisor work together closely to identify the worker’s strengths, the skills in need of improvement and the plans to improve those skills. A summary of this approach is now available. Download the Collaborative Competency Building Overview.
The Assessment Tools are also available for download:
The Employee Self-Assessment Tool helps the worker identify his or her strengths and areas in need of improvement on the Alaskan Core Competencies. This can be completed during the initial orientation period and immediately before performance reviews.
The Skill Building Plan is used by the supervisor and worker to agree on and document specific learning objectives and the steps to accomplish those objectives.
The Logbook is used during the course of the year for both the worker and supervisor to note observations on the worker’s strengths and the competencies in need of improvement.
The 360 Degree Feedback Form is used to gather constructive feedback about job performance from those who interact with the worker, such as coworkers, clients and family members.
The Performance Review Tool is used by supervisors to complete annual performance evaluations with a focus on the Alaskan Core Competencies.
The Portfolio Guide helps the worker track continuing education and other learning activities.
A single document is available for download called Assessment Tools for the Alaskan Core Competencies. This compendium contains the Collaborative Competency Building Overview and all six assessment tools.
For Additional Information
Email Michael Hoge, Senior Science & Policy Advisor for the Annapolis Coalition, with general or technical questions about the competencies.
Email Kathy Craft, who coordinates workforce development activities in Alaska, with questions about the implementation of the competencies in that state.
To learn more about Alaska’s workforce development efforts visit, the website of The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.