Working in Care – A Guide
Below we have laid out a guide to working in care that we believe is essential for anybody thinking of joining the industry, but especially for those who have never considered the care sector as a serious profession.
Introduction to Social Care
Social Care as a concept has been around since the 17th century, with the modern system coming into play in line with the start of the NHS and Welfare State in the 1940’s. The aim of social care is to improve peoples lives by providing support and protection to those members of society who require it either due to poverty, physical or mental illness, old age, disability, or vulneralability/risk of endangerment.
With an estimated annual Social Care spend of over £30bn in England alone, there are currently around 25,000 care employers, employing over 1.5 million workers, mainly in care home and domiciliary care (home care) services. In addition there are a further 5 million unpaid carers either supporting their relatives, or working voluntarily to help others. This brings the total value – or “cost” – of care closer to £85bn a year.
Social Care is not only an essential part of our lives, either directly or through a relative – but once you become involved you soon begin to realise the scale of its reach and the importance that the people involved have on society.
Care as a Career
With the population living for longer and due to mental health illnesses becomming more widely recognised, care is set to double over the coming years. Although this puts even more pressure on the care system, it also creates numerous opportunities for work and rapid career progression.
Long gone is the stigma that many have had of care work as a lowly considered, or in some way demeaning job. Besides the rewarding aspect of helping others, there is great value in becoming a ‘carer’ and almost unlimited career potential through qualifications and development. Good care workers understand that they now have a lot of value in the current market and due to the number of providers and competitive nature of the industry, they can often command more suitable conditions from employers that are almost desperate to attract experienced and reliable staff. This also gives rise to people shifting from company to company to step up to more senior posts.
Every care worker in the UK will be offered training and after a short period can enter onto free NVQ/QCF qualifications all the way through to management level, with opportunities to fast track and skip levels if required.
In short, if you are driven to succeed, are willing to learn and can demonstrate your desire to progress, it has been known for care workers to quickly work their way to become Registered Managers in only 2 to 3 years, commanding salaries from £30,000 up to £60,000 per year.
Before you Consider Working in Care
As much as we want to encourage people to work in care, it is also important to understand what is involved before thinking of applying for jobs.
First and foremost, as the name suggests, a ‘care’ worker needs to actually ‘care’ about others, or want to help make a difference to peoples lives. Whether that’s because you are one of those naturally caring types of people, or simply because you can see the importance of supporting your community and want to get involved. Care is both physically and emotionally demanding, but also highly rewarding.
Care work is a commitment and responsibility where your actions and attitude have a direct impact on the individuals that rely on your dedication. There is also no escaping the fact that social care is a 24/7, 365 days per year business and as much as an employer will try to offer flexibility, you need to know that the load has to be shared in order to make things as fair on everyone involved as possible. This means your contribution of early starts, late finishes and probably working every other weekend. Not forgetting that you will also be required to cover either Christmas Day or New Years day each year as well – a bit like retail really except nobody comes to any harm if the shop closes for a day or two.
You have to understand that the care system is far from perfect or ideal – in that there are not enough carers or services to cover the countries social care needs. This only adds to the pressure of dedicating to your role due to the fact that taking unneccessary time off – when you might not feel like working – has a huge impact on your colleagues and clients. On the positive it is this scenario that enables you to quickly shine in your employment just by doing your job well.
Where care services are indeed essential, due to the growth and limited funds available there is more onus on local authorities to reduce their costs while demanding more from providers through quality and delivery. Finding solutions to the issues faced, either through service or technology, makes for big business and rest assured, there will always be a career available in social care.
Types of Care Jobs
There are a wide variety of jobs available in the social care system and a number of factors involved as to what that job will entail. For the sake of this article we are looking at entry level care jobs rather than senior or social work positions.
To begin with it is worth knowing that there are various job titles for a Care Worker. These can include care assistant, caregiver, carer, healthcare assistant (HCA) and personal assistant (PA). All of them are mostly the same thing, dependent on the setting and user groups you work with, but different providers choose to use the job titles they believe best reflect the services they provide. For job seekers we recommend that you try a variety of searches to maximise your results.
As a rule Support Worker jobs are usually those that deal with mental health and learning disability service users, however some employers do prefer to use ‘support worker’ or ‘support assistant’ rather than ‘care assistant’ or ‘care worker’ as they feel that their business supports others, rather than cares for them.
The main lesson to learn here is that regardless of the job title of any given vacancy it is important to read the job description thoroughly. You can’t judge a job by title alone, so make sure you know what’s involved before applying.
Below we have listed some of the factors that should be considered when looking for jobs in care.
User Groups and Service Users
The job of care is all about the ‘people’ with probably the most important aspect of care – for you as the worker – being the clients that you choose to support. User groups is the term used to define specific categories of people and their associated service needs. Though we generalise these below for your information, it is important to remember that every ‘service user’ is of course an individual and should be treated as such.
Before entering any care service a person will be assessed by social services and/or the relevant care provider. This leads to the development of a care plan to meet their requirements and this is adhered to by care and support workers until care is no longer required. Depending on the individuals’ needs and the choices that they make, the amount of care received will be decided along with where it will be delivered. You can find more information on care settings further down this article.
Old Age or Elderly Service Users
As an aging population there are many more services that provide for the elderly than any other user group. This means that elderly care is the largest division of social care in the UK and therefore offers the most opportunities to develop a career with greater earning potential through larger services. Care and Nursing Homes can be very large and with this responsibility a Registered Manager will naturally command a higher salary.
Some would say that working with the elderly is the most difficult i.e. it is hard work to care for individuals that are unable to do many things for themselves. On the flip side the people that enjoy working with old age service users love the interaction and find their jobs highly rewarding.
It is often easy to forget that our elderly community have lived full and interesting lives and many have a good tale to tell. Through all of the tasks that you may need to perform to care for an elderly client, often the best time is spent when simply taking the time to sit and talk, or share interests and it is through the relationships that you develop that you will find your role most enjoyable.
Other factors to consider when thinking of working with the elderly. There is more of a requirement to deliver personal care, including washing, help with the toilet and changing catheter bags. There are also additional needs that have to be considered with elderly clients such as dementia and alzheimers, especially where not offically diagnosed, however you should receive training to further improve your skills in these areas.
Mental Health and Learning Disability Clients
For the purposes of people new to care we are generalising user groups here, but there are a wide range of complexities when it comes to Mental Health and Learning Disabilities and there are numerous reasons that people can require support. This can include those born with a condition, people who develop a condition through personal experience or lifestyle, or somebody involved in an accident or sudden event that causes or leads to a condition.
Unlike elderly care, working with Mental Health and Learning Disability clients is more centred around encouraging people to do things for themselves rather than doing it for them i.e. support, or support work.
Support work focusses on improving quality of life and enabling people to gain skills and independence. This can vary from stimulation of senses through activities and involvement, all the way through to helping people find work, manage their finances and engage with their community. Much of this depends upon your client, the choices that they can make for themselves and any potential goals that they may be trying to achieve in line with personal development. Whatever the case your work will be very different every day with the changing needs of each Mental Health and Learning Disability client that you work with.
Care Work Settings
Care is provided in a number of settings and each is very different with its own pros and cons, as with any workplace. As with all areas of Social Care your experiences will vary based on numerous variables in your employer, the clients, your colleagues, and many others, the setting in which you work.
Before entering any care service a person will be assessed by social services and/or the relevant care provider. This leads to the development of a care plan to meet their requirements and this is adhered to by care and support workers until care is no longer required. Depending on the individual’s’ needs and the choices that they make, the amount of care received will be decided, along with where it will be delivered.
We take a general look at the main social care settings to give you an idea of what might fit you best – those being home care, care homes and supported living.
Working in Home Care or Domiciliary Care
Home Care is when you will work in your local area to visit people in their own homes. For service users (clients) and their families it is often preferable to remain in your own home for as long as possible rather than go into a care home – and it is for this reason that Home Care is in very high demand.
The working day usually runs from 7am to 10pm and you would cover shifts within that time. Visits work around breakfast and helping people out of bed in the morning, through to lunches, dinners and finishing with putting people to bed. The length of visits depends on the needs of each individual (usually elderly) and by helping with tasks such as cooking, cleaning, washing, dressing, shopping and medication you can help people to remain independent by doing the things that they need support with. The most important aspect of working in home care is to understand that you may literally be the only person that any given client could see in the day, therefore you should always put the ‘visit’ first to offer your companionship.
Pros of Home Care Jobs
- Fast growing sector – lots of opportunities
- Flexible working hours
- More varied job role
- One-to-one care – better interaction
- Usually a lot of available hours if needed
Cons of Working in Home Care
- Often zero hour contracts – look for salary or guaranteed hours if possible
- A car is often required to work in home care
- Travel time can be unpaid – Look carefully at rates
- Short visit times can be difficult to adhere to
- Can require working split shifts to cover times needed
- Changeable rota and clients
Careers in Home Care
As one of the fastest growing care settings with numerous employers there are many opportunities to progress. Dependent on the size of the organisation you are with this may entail moving from one agency to another to seek a more senior position but due to the highly competitive nature of the sector you should find many opportunities available.
You should be offered NVQ/QCF training very quickly as it is now becoming a requirement for domiciliary care providers to have the majority of their workforce trained to at least QCF level 2 standard. This enables you to progress to team leader and senior care assistant posts where you will become involved in monitoring other care workers through spot checks and supervisions. Additionally you will be trained to undertake client risk assessments and update care plans etc.
There are also many roles available at office level for care coordinators and compliance. Regardless of your path you will continue to gain experience and qualifications as quickly as you wish to develop. With home care becoming more popular new services are opening or expanding rapidly which means that employers are always keen to find managers of the future.
When looking to join a home care provider it is worth seeking out a reputable and well established company and trying to get yourself the best conditions. Many employers will now offer guaranteed hour contracts and pay travel time, but it is also good to find companies that can organise rotas well and offer the correct support to help you out in the field.
Working in Care and Nursing Homes
Care and Nursing homes vary dramatically in size from a only a few residents up to hundreds of beds. The difference between a care and nursing home is obvious by their names in that a nursing home will have teams of qualified nurses on hand that are able to perform nursing services where the needs of clients involve clinical care and regular patient monitoring.
Care and Nursing Homes ultimately rely on their reputation to maintain full occupancy so it is always in their interest to run a quality service. The aim of a care home is to create a safe, welcoming and homely environment where residents are encouraged to interact with each other and join in varoius activities. There are care homes to cater for every need and you could almost look at them like hotels in that some are very high end and luxurious, commanding very high fees from those that can afford it. Others operate to provide essential services to people with limited budgets. Regardless of their pedigree every care or nursing home is obligated to provide quality care to individuals and it is only through the commitment and attitude of the staff teams that this is managed in the best way.
Unlike home care jobs you will usually work with a group of clients (maybe on a specific ward of larger homes) where you will work in rounds to ensure that care plans are worked to. Sometimes this leads to a demanding schedule of having to get our residents up and dressed for specific breakfast and meal times, or allocating only specific slots of time to service users regardless of their desires.
Pros of Care Home Jobs
- Set shifts of work – up to 12 hr
- Single place of work – no travel
- Continuity of working with same clients
- Overtime often available
- Better career opportunities with larger groups
- Higher salaries for managers and senior staff
Cons of Working in Care Homes
- Very hard work – fast paced
- Often understaffed or highly stretched
- Progression can be hindered if in wrong home
- Reliant on other staff/team members
- Can be very regimented with meal times on mass etc
- Success can be dependent on your manager
Careers in Care and Nursing Homes
There are well over 20,000 care homes across the country, so plenty of choice for places to work. Every care home is very different to one another, even if operated by the same company and policies. The clients, staff and management will always vary and you will be working as part of a team. Where this can always seem like a great idea in sharing the load, it is always wise to assess the manager and senior teams at interview before accepting a job. There are plenty of care homes that run exceptionally well and offer supportive structures with development programmes, however a slack team will only mean more work for you, so look for reputable companies and services in your local area to apply for jobs.
Careers in care homes can develop much quicker due to their size and nature, especially if you are flexible to move to alternate homes within larger groups. Managers rely on their staff teams to run a successful home and will therefore always seek out reliable and trustworthy staff for senior roles.
Working in Supported Living
Supported Living can refer to a wide variety of services that work with Mental Health and Learning Disability clients at all levels to help them develop skills and hopefully gain independence along with a better quality of life.
Support living services can be delivered in peoples own houses and small residential homes through to large blocks of flats for those who are successfully moving on with their lives and require less support.
Unlike elderly care, supported living is more relaxed in terms of daily regime. The aim is to enable clients to enjoy a full and varied life through ‘choice’ by providing the information that will help them make informed decisions of their own. This can include where they live, who they live with, who to socialise with, what shopping to buy, what colour to paint their room, or any of the choices that everybody has the right to make for themselves on a daily basis. For this reason it is not only important that you treat service users as individuals with their own personal requirements, but that you prevent yourself from influencing others with your opinions, even if you may disagree with the choices that are being made.
Before working in a supported living setting you should make sure that you understand the client group and services being provided. There are many degrees of Mental Health or Learning Disabilities and some can be more challenging than others both physically and mentally. You will of course receive specialised training to handle any situations that may arise but it always helps to understand what the role will entail.
Pros of Working in Supported Living
- Sense of achievement / job satisfaction
- Can include days out, socialising and holidays
- Build close friendships with clients
- Fixed hours of work
- Often long shifts or visit times
- Opportunities to diverse into project work
Cons of Working in Support Living
- Many of the services are small and promotions can be rare
- Salaries for Managers and senior staff can be low
- Can face challenging and difficult behaviours
Careers in Supported Living
As with all areas of care the supported living sector is constantly growing and will always require skilled and knowledgable staff to develop into new services. Where support living is so varied you will work closely with external bodies and professionals to ensure that user needs are met and monitored. This can often help you to build your knowledge and discover new avenues of work.
Whether you prefer to work with an individual client on a one to one basis, or become more involved with more specialised work you will always be provided with specialised training to enhance your capabilities and should always have the opportunity to undertake NVQ/QCF qualifications, as with home care and care home work.
Looking at the wider spectrum of Mental Health there are also growing opportunities to enter Project Work where you could be helping to support service user groups such as Children and Families, Drug or Alcohol dependents, the Homeless or people that have suffered Domestic Violence for example.
This is often very interesting and extremely rewarding to help people regain their confidence, develop life skills and re-enter the community.
Training and Development in Care
As a care jobs site we get thousands of enquiries from job seekers that ask where they can start a career in care and who would offer training to help them get started?
The simple answer is that ALL entry level care jobs provide training!
With the care sector being heavily governed under quality standards it is actually a legal requirement for all workers to be suitably trained and vetted before being allowed to provide care to vulnerable people.
Find more detailed information about this along with some excellent advice in our how to get a job in care article.
Once you have satisfied employers with relevant checks you will be entered onto a compulsory training programme, usually lasting between 3 and 5 days. This is classroom based and covers things like:
- Manual Handling
- Food Hygiene
- Health and Safet
- Fire Safety
- Infection Control
- First Aid
Completion of your training is documented and certified for employer records.
The Care Certificate
The care certificate is excellent news for anybody entering the industry. It has been introduced to offer further support to new care workers when starting a career in care, but is also in place to ensure that all workers are capable and confident to deliver the required services to clients when working on their own.
Often the reality of providing care for the first time is very daunting and under very different circumstances from the comfort of the training room. Rather than letting you find you own way through various situations the care certificate means that you will work alongside an experienced or senior member of staff until certain criteria has been met to say that you are competent across a number of standards.
Through this you get to shadow (watch over) seasoned carers before being guided through various scenarios as you complete your care certificate workbook.
This helps you gain knowledge of the job itself and also helps to develop your communication skills with service users while undertaking required tasks. In addition you have somebody to show you the practical and administrative parts of the job within the work setting.
It has to be said that the care certificate is proving to work very successfully, not only in retaining more new carers that may have otherwise found the job too overwhelming if left to fend for themselves, but also with existing staff who are happier to work with new staff members that have been trained to this level of competence in the workplace.
Basically by the time you have finished you will be fully inducted into your new role and ready to take the next step in your career.