Working in the care industry can be extremely rewarding, But what does it involve and what can it offer you?
The UK’s care sector is big business. It currently employs 1.5 million people and it is estimated that by 2025 another 1 million workers will be needed to meet 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 caring is a sustainable career option, even in times of austerity, job cuts and high unemployment.
Types of care
Many carers in the UK are informal – a family member looking after a relative. Formal care is split into two areas: independent or NHS-funded care provided in people’s homes, and care homes giving specialised support. The former 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 a home, sometimes alongside qualified nurses.
Whichever avenue you choose, there are good long-term career prospects if you work hard and have the right attitude. The work is varied – you’ll find that no two days are ever the same – and hours are often flexible. There are plenty of part-time positions available, allowing you to fit work around 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 the older generation is a boom industry that will grow. According to the NHS, 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.
Homes for older people fall roughly into two categories: those providing personal care and those providing nursing care. Care (or residential) homes offer living accommodation, which includes a room (often 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 more independence and take care of many of their own needs.
Nursing homes offer all of the above, with the addition of medical care from qualified nursing staff, who are on site 24 hours a day. Some homes offer specialist support for people with specific health problems, such as physical disabilities, mental health problems or dementia.
Some care home provide a mix of different care. There may be a certain number of places for residents requiring personal care, for those needing nursing care and for those with dementia, for example.
Care homes may be run by private businesses, non-profit organisations such as 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.
A good way to find out if working in care is for you is to volunteer in your spare time. This will also give you valuable experience. Contact a local care provider and offer your services. Personal experience of caring for a relative can also demonstrate your experience and commitment.
Your first position is likely to be a as a healthcare assistant, where your general responsibilities may include providing emotional and practical support for older people. This could be in a care home, day centre or for a care provider, visiting people’s homes.
If you’re making home visits, duties will vary according to the 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 duties may include helping guests with personal care, feeding them their meals and ensuring they’re comfortable.
Hours can be flexible, and there are a lot of part-time positions available, which means you can work when best suits you. You’ll usually work on a rota that may include evening and weekend shifts.
If you’re able to 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 coordinator, care home manager or advice worker. You can earn £6-£12 per hour as a care assistant, rising significantly for managerial positions.
No barriers to entry
A career in care doesn’t discriminate on age, qualifications or background. Although it’s useful to have experience in a caring role, it 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’re looking to change career. One of its advantages is its flexibility, 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.
You don’t need any specific 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 Regulated Qualifications Framework exams in health and social care. Lower level qualifications are designed for care workers, with higher levels intended for senior practitioners or managers.
If you’re over 16, 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 within the company.
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 for one to two years while you study for a qualification. 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 want to build and develop your skills and knowledge, you may want to consider a higher or degree apprenticeship.
All care workers are legally required to have a Disclosure & 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. Your employer will give you the details.
How much can I earn?
Starting salaries are close to the national minimum wage, although you’ll get more for shift work. As a care assistant you can expect to start on around £12,500 a year, but this rises significantly for jobs with more responsibility.
What skills Do I need?
- Empathy and the ability to relate to a range of clients and professionals
- Strong communication skills, especially good listening skills
- The ability to write clear and consistent notes
- A willingness 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
Graduate roles in care
A highly qualified role in which you work to resolve emotional health issues of both adults and children. Requires a degree approved by the British Psychological Society, followed by further accredited qualifications.
Salary: From £26,302 (NHS trainee)
Housing policy officer
Develop housing policies for local authorities and housing associations. Applicants need a relevant degree, such as town planning or social policy.
Salary: From £22,000
Primary care graduate
mental health worker
Provides help to adults coping with mental health issues such as anxiety. A common entry-level role for those wishing to progress within mental health services, requiring a degree in counselling, nursing, psychology or social work.
Salary: From £19, 217