There are plenty of jobs in the social care sector for those dedicated to making a difference. Find out what skills, qualifications and experience you need to secure a position

The need for a degree depends on the specific role that you are interested in.

For example, you don't need a degree to become a family support worker. Employers typically seek a level three qualification in areas such as childcare, education, counselling, health or social care.

You can also enter advice worker roles with a HND, although many candidates have degrees in subjects such as business, law, politics and sociology.

For other areas of work, such as counselling, a degree is not required but you will need to complete a relevant professional course. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) recommends that a three-stage training route is followed including an introduction to counselling, certificate in counselling and a diploma-level qualification in counselling. If your aiming for a career as a psychologist/psychotherapist or occupational therapist you will need a relevant degree or postgraduate qualification.

Similarly, to become a youth worker you will need to have undertaken an undergraduate degree validated by the National Youth Agency (NYA).

For other jobs, such as social work, there is more than one entry route. You can gain a relevant degree or postgraduate qualification or train on-the-job with a variety of schemes such as Step up to Social Work and Frontline.

Other roles may not require a specific degree, but relevant subjects such as health and social care, social science, psychology or education, with the addition of practical placement experience, may be advantageous.

For information on entry requirements and relevant qualifications, see job profiles.

What skills do employers want?

Employers in the social care sector require candidates with:

  • empathy, and a caring and approachable nature as you'll work with clients with a range of issues;
  • the ability to treat people with respect and dignity - you'll come into contact with clients and members of the community who are coping with difficult circumstances and you need to be able to treat them with compassion and kindness;
  • patience and resilience. Careers in social care are often challenging; you'll need the patience to deal with frustrating situations and the resilience to bounce back from set backs;
  • the ability to work well under pressure - in many social care roles, due to a lack of funding, you'll be working with limited resources and to tight deadlines;
  • the ability to follow instructions and procedures - when working with vulnerable children and adults there are a number of procedures and frameworks to adhere to. It's likely that you'll work in multi-disciplinary teams and take instruction from senior members of staff;
  • problem-solving skills - you will come up against a range of challenges both in the office and when dealing with clients so problem solving ability is essential;
  • organisational skills to manage your hectic workload;
  • the ability to manage your own health and wellbeing as social care jobs can be incredibly stressful;
  • motivational skills to encourage and spur on clients and service users, especially when they are feeling disheartened;
  • numerical and IT skills;
  • good verbal communication and listening skills as you'll be working with a variety of people.

Many roles will require you to have direct contact with wide sections of the community so knowledge of a second language may come in useful. A driving licence may also be necessary if your job includes local travel.

In some roles knowledge of first aid may also be an advantage.

Where can I get work experience?

Hands-on work experience is essential for most of the roles in this sector. It can be used to check whether a specific type of work is for you, to gain entry onto a course or as a requirement alongside qualifications when applying for a job.

Many undergraduate and postgraduate social care courses include placements, giving you a chance to gain experience alongside a qualification.

You will need a substantial amount of work experience to get a place on a social work degree or postgraduate course. This can be either paid or voluntary work and could include helping out at your local youth club or elderly care home, giving your time to a relevant charity, working with after-school clubs or victims of crime.

You can search for voluntary work in social care at Do-it, where you can narrow down your search by postcode and areas of interest. It’s also worth getting in touch with your local community centre to see what work experience or voluntary opportunities they have to offer.

For mentoring projects that can provide valuable experience look at organisations such as TimeBank.

For aspiring social workers The Prince's Trust offer 12-week Student Social Work Placements. On the scheme undergraduate and Masters students have the opportunity to support vulnerable young people with a range of issues and build relationships with professional youth workers.

It is a good idea to keep a reflective diary of your experiences, so you can demonstrate your insight into the role to potential employers and highlight the personal skills that you have developed.

Keeping up to date with industry developments is also advisable as this knowledge could give you the edge in job interviews. Read industry press and the social care section of newspapers such as The Guardian.

To find work placements and internships in social care, search for work experience.

How do I find a graduate job in the social care sector?

Large organisations, such as city and borough councils or charities, advertise vacancies on their websites. Social care roles are also advertised in:

Vacancies at smaller organisations can be found by contacting a company directly with a speculative application or through the local press. Find out how to write a speculative job application.

Skills for Care, the sector skills council, offer the National Graduate Management Training Scheme aimed at graduates of any degree subject who want to start a career in care. The scheme lasts 12 months and during this period you will receive an £18,000 tax-free bursary. You will be matched with a social care organisation in which you can make a positive difference and receive help and support from your placement supervisor and Skills for Care. As this is a management scheme you'll have real responsibility and authority from day one.

Social work graduate schemes are offered by Frontline, Step-Up to Social Work and Think Ahead. For more information on these programmes see social work courses.

To find jobs and graduate schemes in the social care sector, search graduate jobs in social care.