What skills do I need for a career in social care?

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When you think of adult social care, you probably imagine a care assistant working with an older person. But while this is a really important job within social care, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What is social care?

Social care is all about helping people live independent, healthy lives. There are many reasons why someone might need support, including:

  • Old age.
  • Illness.
  • A disability.
  • Long-term joblessness.
  • A low income.

Social care is even there for families, making sure children from vulnerable or disadvantaged backgrounds are growing up in a healthy, safe environment, although we’ll focus on adult social care in this article.

Social care is a great career path if you want to have a direct, visible impact on people’s lives as in many jobs, you’ll work directly with the people the service is there to help.

What social care jobs are there?

Helping vulnerable people live independent lives relies on lots of people in different roles working together. Here’s a snapshot of some of those roles:

  • Activities worker: Plan activities for people in residential care homes, community care centres and their own homes.
  • Care workers don't just provide personal care -

    advocacy workers help people understand what help

    they're entitled to

    Advocacy officer: Help people understand what support they’re entitled to – from benefits to personal care – and help them apply for it.
  • Care worker / senior care worker: Help people with the basic day-to-day tasks most of us take for granted, such as cooking, getting around, housework, taking medication, and toileting. This could be in a care home or at the person's own home.
  • Support worker / community support worker: Help people live independently by assisting with their basic day-to-day needs, as they recover from an illness, for example.
  • Personal assistant: Carry out some of the duties of a care worker or support worker, but tend to work with one person instead of many.
  • Social services officer: Social services officers work in a number of different roles giving people advice and guidance to help them live independently.
  • Employment officer: Help people with disabilities, illnesses, or who have been unemployed for a long time to find work.
  • Counsellor: Providing talking therapy to people struggling with emotional or psychological problems.

What skills for care do I need?

Each of these jobs is different and comes with its own set of skills. However, there are certain core skills for care which are important across every job in the industry:

'Considering a career in care? Find out what core skills you need to succeed'

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Care and compassion

First and foremost, you need to be a caring person who genuinely wants to make a difference to people’s lives. Jobs in care come with a lot of responsibility and can be stressful. Care and support workers help patients with deeply personal tasks, such as using the toilet, and you'll need to be able to handle this sensitively.

Emotional resilience

In any role, you may have to deal with upsetting situations and distressed people. Care and support workers sometimes have to react to emergencies, such as when a patient is ill or injured and needs medical help. Counsellors often work with people suffering from bereavement or struggling from upsetting personal problems. Not only will you have to keep a cool head and act calmly, you will also need to be able to absorb the emotional impact of your work.

Communication

A vitally important skill for care is the ability to communicate clearly with the people you’re helping with, and at their level. Care and support workers helping people with their basic needs must be able to settle and reassure patients. Employment officers and advocacy workers need to be able to get complicated information over to people simply and in a way they will understand.

Communication, people skills and team work

are important skills for anyone in social care

People skills

Closely connected with communication, you need to be able to strike up a rapport with the people you’re helping, whatever role you’re performing. As a care or support worker, you'll need to build a strong and trusting relationship with the people you’re helping as you’ll have close physical contact with them at times. In an advice role, such as an advocacy worker or employment officer, you’ll need to encourage people to trust the information you’re giving them.

Time management

Many jobs in social care require independent working since you'll visit people at their homes or in different care homes and community centres. This means you’ll need to be able to provide a good service within your schedule, which could be very tight. Care workers in particular often encounter unexpected situations, so you’ll need to be able to prioritise to make sure you’re able to stick to your other responsibilities.

Team work

You’ll work closely with other social care professionals. Care workers often work in pairs or small teams, and you need to be well coordinated to ensure the best service for your patients. People’s needs may span many different parts of the care system, so you’ll need to be able to share information with colleagues in other roles.

Numeracy

Care workers, support workers, activities workers, social services officers and others all handle money in one way or another. This might involve buying food for patients, materials for activities or tickets for a day out. This means you’ll a sound grasp of numbers and the ability to work within a budget, keep receipts and fill out expenses forms.

IT

As with any job nowadays, social care workers use computer systems to help them with their work. This could involve finding authoritative information online as an advocacy worker, using an iPad or tablet in an activity as an activities worker, or simply keeping records in any role.

What do I need beyond these basic skills for care?

These are the core skills for care you’ll need in virtually any role within social care.

However, for some jobs, you’ll need to gain extra experience or qualifications, either before you start work, or as part of your training in the role. This will often depend on your employer.

Many employers will ask you to study for a level 2 or 3 diploma in health and social care (HSC), or a level 3 preparing for work in the care sector. Having one or both of these qualifications will give you an advantage when applying for a job.

You can train for some jobs through an apprenticeship, which will give you all the basic skills for care you need to perform your role, as well as qualifications and experience. Roles include:

  • Activities coordinator
  • Care worker
  • Support worker

For some roles, you’ll need to extra qualifications to begin with. For example, counsellors need considerable training and experience to practise. Take a look at our dedicated article to learn more.

Other advice on social care careers...

Social Care Career Zone

7 jobs in health and social care you could do

What jobs can you get with health and social care?

60 Second Interview: Care assistant

What skills do I need for a career in health?

What are health and social care apprenticeships?

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Check list by Freepik

Medical workers by Jannoon028 via Freepik

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