If you have great interpersonal skills and are a resourceful problem-solver, you may be well suited to a career in advice work

As an advice worker you'll provide free, impartial and confidential advice to clients on a range of issues, such as debt, employment and housing.

You'll deliver this advice in a range of ways, including via face-to-face appointments, telephone, email, and web-chat support. You could be based in a variety of settings including community centres, doctors' surgeries and courts and prisons, as well as in dedicated advice or call centres.

Types of advice worker

It's common to work as a general adviser covering many topics. Alternatively, you could specialise in a particular area, such as:

  • benefits
  • debt
  • drugs and alcohol
  • housing
  • legal.

Responsibilities

As an advice worker, you'll need to:

  • listen, diagnose problems and give impartial advice and guidance
  • provide information on a range of topics - face to face, by phone or email
  • carry out research where necessary
  • consider options and identify the best possible course of action
  • support your client in dealing with their problems
  • refer your clients to other services and sources of help where appropriate, for example to a solicitor or social worker
  • mediate in mixed counselling sessions, e.g. couples and families
  • represent your client where necessary -this may involve contacting financial institutions, housing providers or the legal system
  • be organised and able to work to a schedule of appointments
  • carry out administrative duties
  • use an interpreter if necessary
  • produce information for publications, leaflets and web pages
  • promote the services on offer and distribute publicity materials
  • liaise with other internal departments and external organisations
  • keep up to date with appropriate legislation and policies
  • write reports and compile statistics on cases covered and services provided
  • provide training or talks to internal staff or external organisations
  • set up support groups
  • maintain confidential case records and administrative systems.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for advice workers are between £16,000 and £23,000.
  • In a mid-level supervisory position, you could earn around £26,000 to £30,000.
  • At senior level, with some management responsibility, salaries range from £25,000 to £40,000.

You're likely to start in a volunteer role, as these are the most widely available vacancies. If you volunteer with the Citizens Advice service, you'll receive full training to become a paid adviser.

Salaries are often dependent on external, and sometimes unpredictable, sources of funding. Benefits can include a pension scheme.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although advice sessions are sometimes offered in the evenings and at weekends. Some organisations now offer a telephone advice and web-chat service outside normal office hours.

Part-time work is common and flexible working is often available, which may also include job sharing.

What to expect

  • Some positions, particularly those in the voluntary sector, are only available on temporary contracts due to short-term funding.
  • The work is usually office-based. The quality of your work environment will depend on your employer and the level of funding available.
  • Self-employment is rare.
  • Jobs are available in most towns and cities, but rarely in rural areas.
  • The job involves dealing with clients who are sometimes anxious, upset and angry.
  • Some local travel may be required, and the occasional overnight stay when attending training or conferences.

Qualifications

There are no formal degree requirements for entering advice work and employers generally look for candidates with relevant skills and experience.

However, many people do hold a degree - in some cases, this extends to a postgraduate or professional qualification as well.

Depending on the nature of the advice you're providing, the following subjects may be helpful:

  • business and/or finance
  • community studies/cultural studies/youth studies
  • education
  • law
  • politics
  • psychology
  • social administration/social policy/social work
  • sociology.

Entry with a HND is possible. Any subject that gives knowledge of, or demonstrates an interest in law, finance, communication or social work is useful. In particular, the following HND subjects are beneficial:

  • business studies/administration
  • legal studies
  • public administration
  • social sciences.

There are some limited opportunities for legal advice apprenticeships.

A postgraduate qualification is not required for this role but subjects such as law or social work are most relevant if you do wish to study at a higher level.

Qualifications in areas such as counselling or guidance are valued by employers.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • interpersonal, communication and IT skills
  • the ability to relate to people from different backgrounds
  • a caring, sensitive and non-judgemental manner
  • a flexible approach to work
  • the ability to work on your own initiative as well as part of a team
  • resourcefulness, problem-solving skills and good attention to detail
  • the ability to cope with stress and emotionally charged issues
  • strong written skills suitable for writing letters on a client's behalf and making good case records
  • numeracy skills suitable for working out benefit entitlements and other financial matters
  • tact and diplomacy to deal with sensitive and confidential information
  • the ability to liaise with other professionals and organisations
  • a good awareness of equality and diversity issues
  • knowledge of an ethnic minority language - while not essential for many posts, this may give you an advantage.

Work experience

Developing contacts through voluntary work is a useful way of gaining employment. It also shows your commitment to and enthusiasm for the role.

Volunteer experience is an important, and sometimes essential, factor in securing paid employment. There can be a high level of competition for a relatively low number of paid positions, as it's common for advice work to be done by volunteers. Experience in dealing with people and running administrative systems is valuable.

Other relevant work experience includes working in customer service or in your local community.

Employers

One of the main sources of employment for advice workers in England and Wales is the Citizens Advice service, delivered through a network of 316 individual charities. The service employs 7,000 paid staff and 23,000 volunteers.

Citizens Advice operates independently in Northern Ireland and Scotland. For more information, see:

See Advice UK for details of other independent advice centres offering general or specialist advice in a range of areas, including mental health, single parent families and homelessness.

Other employers include:

  • local authorities
  • National Health Service (NHS)
  • universities
  • further education (FE) colleges and students' union welfare offices
  • trade unions
  • professional bodies.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Organisations usually offer their own training programmes, providing general or in-depth knowledge of the areas in which they give advice. Most programmes include basic legal training and courses in communication and problem solving. Training usually involves a combination of induction programmes, training and mentoring.

Citizens Advice has a coordinated staff training and development strategy, ensuring staff receive comprehensive training.

Advice UK provides a range of training and qualifications for advice workers in all areas of advice, including an industry-standard 10-day 'Learning to Advise' programme.

As well as many shorter, specific courses, other relevant advice-work qualifications include the Level 3 NVQ/SVQ Certificate in Advice and Guidance and the Level 4 NVQ/SVQ Diploma in Advice and Guidance.

Career prospects

Career development may involve moving away from providing advice, at least for some of the time. Promotion is often linked with taking on additional or different responsibilities, such as:

  • recruiting and managing volunteers
  • training new staff
  • managing the advice centre
  • promoting advice centre services and developing marketing strategies
  • income generation and financial management.

Although opportunities exist to move into advice centre management, you will find that the profession offers relatively few management positions. Some advice centres are cooperatively run, with no hierarchical job structure.

If you enjoy client work, you may choose to develop your career by taking a course in counselling. You could also decide to gain expertise in a specialised area of advice work, such as housing, debt and finance, or drug and alcohol-related problems.

Alternatively, you could take professional or academic qualifications that allow you to work in related areas such as law or social care.