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Social Care

Social care includes looking after older people or adults with disabilities, as well as helping vulnerable children and adults through social work. It's a perfect career if you're a naturally caring person and want to make a difference to people's lives.

What is social care?

People who work in social care help others overcome challenges in their lives. In some roles, you may be working exclusively with older adults, young people or children. Social care jobs can be very rewarding and it takes a special type of person to work in this industry. Some situations that you may deal with in a social care role include:

  • Caring for older or disabled people, either at their home, in a community centre, or in a care home
  • Child protection
  • Working with people with mental health issues
  • Supporting homeless people
  • Adoption and fostering of children
  • Working with people who have addictions

The social care sector is all about people. So, if you’re able to talk to anyone from any background, then a career in social care could be for you.

What social care jobs can I do?

There are a whole range of different jobs out there within the social care sector and there’s a lot of scope to specialise in one particular area. Some of the many social care jobs include:

Care professional (Private Sector, Local Authorities)

Care professionals help adults who are older or disabled, or who have chronic illnesses, live independent lives. They provide care for adults in their homes, at residential facilities known as "care homes", and at centres in the community.

Care workers and support workers help the people they look after with everyday activities such as preparing food, bathing and using the toilet, taking medication and household chores ("personal care"). Personal assistants do a similar job, but tend to work with one person rather than many.

Nurses also work in the social care industry to provide health care to people with specific medical needs. Care professionals tend to work for providers in the private sector, although some are employed by local councils.

Social services worker (local authority)

Every council in the UK has a social care and social services department, each with a diverse range of jobs. You could choose to work specifically in elder care, supporting older people, working as part of a youth project with young people or even as an outreach worker, supporting homeless people. One of the biggest advantages of working with a local authority is having the opportunity to experience working in different roles. Many councils offer secondment opportunities within social care, meaning you can develop additional skills out with your own role.

Support worker (charity and voluntary sector)

Working with a charity or voluntary organisation can be a very rewarding role. Most charity organisations are community based, either in a local area or within a specific industry. For example, part of your job as a charity support worker might be to organise events for young people, whereas other jobs might require more specialist knowledge, for example in domestic energy support roles.

Social worker (schools, colleges, universities)

If you particularly enjoy working with young people, then a job as a social worker in a school or college could be for you. In this diverse role, you’ll be supporting people in a variety of ways, including helping with family issues, relationship counselling and providing sexual health advice and guidance. Read this interview with a social worker.

Read more: 7 jobs in health and social care you could do

Is a career in social care for me?

If you enjoy working with people and have a naturally caring demeanour, then you might enjoy working in social care. You’ll need to have excellent listening skills and be able to follow processes and procedures.

All social care workers need to adopt a person-centred approach and have good communication skills. In this role, you’ll also be working closely with other organisations, such as the police, drug and alcohol support services and homeless organisations, so you’ll need to have good interpersonal skills too. You’ll also need to be emotionally resilient as you may sometimes have to deal with upsetting situations.

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

How can I start a career in social care?

Since this is a wide area, this very much depends on the job.

If you plan to work in a supporting role, then you may not need a specific degree to enter the job market. You should have relevant A-levels and any experience of working in a social care or community role will be an advantage.

Employers look for different things in candidates and although qualifications are important, they aren’t always an absolute necessity. However, if you plan to work as a fully qualified social worker or in any specialist roles, you will need to have a degree or at least an HNC/HND in social care.

Care professionals do not need specific qualifications, although having a health and social care (HSC) qualification could help you get a job. However, many care providers do not require these qualifications, offering training on the job. This may include the opportunity to gain work towards an HSC qualification.

Some social care workers start their careers by doing voluntary work with a charity in order to develop their skills and gain some experience in the sector. In some cases, voluntary roles often turn into permanent positions. Senior care assistant Jessica recommends doing your work experience in a care setting in this interview.

Most colleges in the UK offer part-time and full-time social care courses where you can obtain a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) to a certain level.

You can also gain a degree in social work through distance learning courses offered by the Open University or by studying as an undergraduate at a UK university.

Apprenticeships are available in the social care sector. Programmes include:

  • Adult care worker (level 2)
  • Lead adult care worker (level 3)
  • Leader in adult care (level 5)
  • Lead practitioner in adult care (level 4)
  • Social worker (level 6)

What social care qualifications are available?

Many people who work in entry-level social care jobs are offered the chance to study for an NVQ at college while working in their role. In most cases, employers will pay the course fees on the condition that you remain in the role for at least one year after you’re qualified.

Jobs in social care often involve ongoing training in order to develop your skills. Many social care workers also have qualifications in first aid, motivational interviewing and advanced drug and alcohol training, all of which can be useful in other social care roles too.

If you plan to become a fully qualified social worker however, you will need to obtain a degree from a university or complete level 6 degree apprenticeship.

Did you know these social care facts?

Social care is a growing sector in the UK with over £22 billion spent on the industry by local authorities in 2021-22. At the moment, there is a high demand for social care workers in the UK.

The industry body Skills for Care has lots of resources and information about pursuing a career in the industry which you might find useful.

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