As the population ages and health budgets are squeezed, care in the community is a burgeoning industry!
The care industry can provide you with a lifelong career where you will be helping people to live their lives in their own homes. It can be extremely rewarding and although the monetary rewards may not be big and the hours may be anti-social, it does enable people to work flexibly to fit around their own families and lives. It also offers the satisfaction of making a difference, and opportunities to progress.
The care sector is already big business. It currently employs 1.5 million people. By 2025, skillsforcare.org.uk estimates that a further one million workers will be needed to meet England’s growing social care demands. Areas include care for older people, those with disabilities, those with special needs, young people in crisis, and those with long-term conditions and terminal illnesses. This means that caring is a sustainable career option, even in times of austerity, job cuts and high unemployment.
Home help or care home?
Many carers in the UK are informal – a family member looking after a relative. Formal care is split into two options: working for an independent or NHS-funded care provider to give home-based help; or working in a care home providing specialised support for those who need it.
Home-working may include helping elderly and/or disabled people to live independently in their own homes, taking people out for social events and providing informal carers with a break. Working in a care home may include shifts providing care for disabled and/or elderly people in one particular home, sometimes alongside qualified nurses.
Whatever avenue you choose, there are good long-term career prospects if you work hard and have the right attitude. The work is varied, with no two days ever the same, and hours are usually flexible. There are plenty of part-time positions available, so you can fit your work around your family and other commitments.
Whether you’re a school leaver, a graduate or are looking for a change of career, social care is a job unlike any other. It doesn’t discriminate on your age, qualifications or background. All that matters is that you have a kind, caring nature, and you want to share that with people who really need it.
Looking after our older generation is a boom industry that will continue to expand, thanks to an ageing population. The number of people aged 65 and over is projected to increase from 10.84 million in 2012 to 17.79 million by 2037; the number of over-85s is estimated to more than double, from 1.44 million in 2012 to 3.64 million by 2037.*
Care homes for older people tend to provide personal care or nursing care. Care homes providing personal care (also known as residential homes) offer living accommodation, which includes a room (usually en-suite), meals and help with personal care, such as washing, dressing, going to the toilet and taking medication. Staff will give care during normal short illnesses, but don’t provide full nursing care. In some homes, able residents have greater independence and take care of many of their own needs.
Care homes providing nursing care (known as nursing homes) offer all of the above, with the addition of medical care from qualified nursing staff, on-site 24 hours a day. Some care homes offer specialist support for those people with specific health problems, such as physical disabilities, mental health problems or dementia. A care home might provide a mix of different care types – for example, there might be a certain number of places for residents requiring personal care, for those needing nursing care, and for those with dementia.
Care homes may be owned or run by private (commercial) businesses, which may run a group of care homes; non-profit organisations like charities and housing associations; or local authorities, which mostly run residential homes rather than nursing homes. Many local authorities outsource care to non-profit organisations – only about 10% of care home places are provided directly by local authorities.
Volunteering in your spare time will help clarify whether this is the career for you, and give you valuable work experience that will help when you apply for a paid job. Contact a local care home or care service provider and offer your services. Personal experience of caring for an ill or disabled relative can also demonstrate your experience and commitment.
Your first position is likely to be a healthcare assistant, where your general responsibilities may include providing emotional and practical support for older people. You could be working in a care home, day centre or for a care provider, visiting people in their own homes.
If you’re visiting people at home, duties will vary according to each client. Building up a relationship and getting to know their likes and dislikes is crucial. You’ll usually be responsible for some personal care, light housework, preparing or serving meals, helping with general household upkeep, and chatting and ensuring they feel valued and listened to.
If you’re working in a care home, your daily duties may include helping guests with personal care, feeding them their meals and ensuring they’re comfortable.
Hours can be flexible, with a lot of part-time positions available, which means you can work when best suits you, depending on personal circumstances. You’ll usually work on a rota that may include evening and weekend shifts.
If you enjoy the work and prove your commitment and competence, you can usually get free training and work towards senior and managerial roles. You could go on to become a social worker, care co-ordinator, care home manager or advice worker. You can earn £6-£12per hour as a care assistant, rising significantly for managerial positions.
• Empathy and the ability to relate to a wide range of clients and professionals.
• Strong communication skills – good listening skills, in particular.
• The ability to write clear and consistent notes.
• Being able and willing to learn about company policies and guidelines, and apply them to different situations.
• An ability to react quickly and remain calm and logical, even in a crisis.
• A non-judgemental, tolerant attitude and approach.
• Kindness in spades – even if it isn’t always returned.
• Patience, even in the face of adversity.
If you’re over 16, then a so-called ‘earn and learn’ apprenticeship will give you an all-round learning experience in social care. At the end, you’ll have a qualification that will stand you in good stead when it comes to finding a paid
job in the sector.
You’ll work alongside experienced staff, gaining the skills and knowledge you need to be a competent and confident worker. Some care providers, such as companies running homes and home carer schemes, have set up their own apprenticeships, which can lead to jobs.
Anyone over 16 years of age and not in full-time education can apply for an apprenticeship – it doesn’t matter if you’re just leaving school, have been working for years or are seeking to start a new career – and there’s no upper age limit. Most apprenticeships last up to two years and are work-based, which means you can develop those important practical skills.
BTEC apprenticeships have two levels, Intermediate and Advanced, and involve a placement in a care home of one to two years while you study for a qualification. To do this, you will usually need GCSEs in English and maths. Previous caring experience or a proven interest in helping and supporting others is also desirable. If you’ve already taken an Intermediate or Advanced level apprenticeship and you want to build and develop your skills and knowledge, you may want to consider a Higher or Degree apprenticeship.
You don’t need qualifications to work in the care sector, but they will help you to progress in your career. You can often do more training while you’re working – perhaps taking Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) exams in health and social care. Lower level qualifications are designed for care workers, with higher levels intended for senior practitioners or managers.
All care workers are required to have a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, formerly known as a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check. However, only employers and licensing bodies can request a DBS check – job applicants can’t apply for a criminal records check on themselves.
No barriers to entry
Whether you’re a school leaver, graduate looking for long-term opportunities, or someone looking for a change, a career in care doesn’t discriminate on your age, qualifications or background.
Although it’s probably useful if you have experience in a caring role, relevant experience isn’t vital. Generally speaking, companies are looking for the right people with a caring nature and a practical, hands-on approach.
Care work can also be a great option if you want to change career. It’s flexible, meaning it can suit a range of lifestyles – for instance, if you want to fit it around your family’s needs or another job.
Working with the elderly may not seem like the obvious choice for a young person. However, if you can demonstrate an aptitude to caring and are enthusiastic and willing to learn, many clients really appreciate having a young person around to help them, particularly if they don’t usually get to interact with different age groups on a day to day basis.
Care can be an excellent career choice, particularly for school and college leavers, as it provides stability and a chance for career development, as well as personal development.