What knowledge, skills and attitudes do settlement workers need in the digital era?

I was at a really interesting workshop about the future of work yesterday, which I’ll post about soon. Today, I want to focus on something simple, but revealing.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be spending some time looking at the future of human service work and workers (Yes, including AI, but not blockchain. Yet…). Given that most of my experience is in the Settlement Sector, I’ll likely focus that look on human service workers who serve immigrants and refugees (also known as Settlement Workers here in Canada).

At a workshop last year, I asked a group of participants to break into groups and identify the top four things settlement workers need to know, top four skills that they must possess, and the top four work-related attitudes and behaviours in the era of digital service delivery.

Below is a great list of what they came up with.

As you’ll see (I’ll include images of the flipcharts below), while technology factors into what Settlement Workers need, it’s much more than that:

Attitudes and behaviours

  • Adaptability – to new technology, changes in client needs, environment, etc.
  • Staying up to date – willingness to stay current
  • Initiative – to learn new skills/technology; willingness
  • Respect – privacy, security, organizational values, client needs/boundaries, sensitivity/tact, cultural awareness
  • Commitment to ongoing learning
  • Warmth/welcoming, professionalism
  • Respectful
  • Patient
  • High standard of work ethics
  • Openess to diversity
  • Respecting client choices
  • Having a deep understanding of principles of privacy, confidentiality and conflict of interest
  • Boundaries with clients


  • Research skills – ability to learn about new technology and share that information
  • Familiarity with technology that is used in the workplace and how to apply it to daily work
  • Self-directed learning
  • Communication skills that can translate to different media and platforms
  • How to use tools
  • Communication and problem solving
  • Language skills
  • Self-care, stress management
  • Facilitation skills
  • Office equipment, including social media management
  • Time management – service delivery, technology administration
  • Resourcefulness on finding information


  • Privacy policies, security standards, organizational guidelines, etc.
  • Knowledge of client needs – how do clients prefer to be communicated with, how to transmit information
  • Familiarlity with service subject matter – settlement, language, employment, etc.
  • Familiarity with available resources – community, internal, etc.
  • Canadian Council for Refugees 12 Core Values
  • Best practices in online service delivery
  • Existing tools of the trade
  • Pre-existing networks and services
  • Canadian systems (such as Multiculturalism)
  • Services and resources available to citizens and permanent residents
  • Canadian values/culture/laws
  • Obstacles faced by newcomers
  • Best practices on social services

This is just a snapshot of one group’s perspective. But one thing struck me. There wasn’t much overlap between groups.

This suggests the richness of human service work, as well as its complexity. Human service workers already have complex and sophisticated jobs. Moving that work online or creating blended services increases that complexity. What participants were clear about is that there are some fundamental and core skills, attitudes and knowledge that any human service worker needs.

Moving work online or digital means building new skills on top of the competencies that human service workers already have. That means investments by agencies, funders, and workers themselves. More to come on that.

What do you think? Comment below!

The flipcharts:

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