The social care sector employs more than 1.49 million people and the demand for skilled workers is rising. Discover more about this vital sector

What areas of social care can I work in?

Employment opportunities in the social care sector can be grouped into:

  • advice and guidance
  • childcare and early years
  • child protection
  • community work and day care
  • counselling
  • fostering and adoption
  • housing
  • occupational therapy
  • probation
  • psychology
  • residential care
  • supporting independent living
  • therapies (e.g. art, music, drama)
  • youth and community work.

You could choose to provide care for a specific group of people such as adults, children, the elderly, families, or those with mental ill-health, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, or alcohol or drug dependency.

There is increasing crossover between social care and healthcare roles so you could, for example, work as a nurse in a social care setting such as a care home for the elderly.

For examples of roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in social care.

Who are the main graduate employers?

Social care jobs can be found with a range of employers. These include:

  • local authorities - e.g. social services
  • the NHS - e.g. hospitals, mental health trusts, community based settings
  • charity and voluntary organisations - such as Age Concern, Barnardo's, British Red Cross, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mencap, Save the Children, Sue Ryder, YMCA
  • residential and non-residential care organisations
  • the Prison Service and probation services
  • private or independent organisations
  • schools, colleges and universities.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the social care sector can expect:

  • a rewarding career, focused on helping individuals and society as a whole.
  • to work in diverse settings including care homes, clients' homes, community centres, hostels, probation offices, prisons, homeless shelters, schools, hospitals and Jobcentres
  • jobs to include unsociable hours, such as evenings and weekends, particularly in residential care and community work
  • to work in a multidisciplinary team alongside health workers
  • temporary or fixed-term contracts depending on your role - many jobs are subject to the renewal of funding
  • to build relationships with patients and service users and to have to deal with stressful situations, helping clients who are upset or angry. This can make the work emotionally challenging.

To find out more about what it's like to work in a social care role, see job profiles.

How do I get a job in the sector?

Jobs often carry a high level of responsibility - you may be taking care of people with physical or mental health issues, safeguarding children, mentoring victims of substance misuse or working to rehabilitate offenders. As such, some experience working with diverse groups is essential.

Internships and work shadowing opportunities in the sector can be difficult to find, often due to the sensitive nature of the work. Do some research to identify the organisations you'd like to work for and if you can't find a formal work experience programme consider contacting companies speculatively for opportunities. Discover how to ask employers for work experience. Alternatively, university job shops or your local JobCentre Plus may be able to help you find work experience vacancies.

Volunteering is a great way to gain experience in a social care role. You'll give your time to a worthy cause and gain great hands-on experience to use in university or job applications. You can volunteer in schools, youth clubs and community settings, befriend and support the elderly or disabled, work with charities to combat poverty and man helplines to help someone undergoing a mental health crisis.

A degree isn't a necessity for a lot of jobs in the social care sector and you can enter a number of careers via an apprenticeship. However some jobs, such as those in social work, child psychotherapy and educational psychology demand that you're educated to at least degree level, and it's impossible to enter the field without a degree. Find out more about social work courses.

Depending on what you'd like to do there are a number of graduate schemes on offer. Social workers should take a look at the programmes on offer at Frontline and Think Ahead, while those looking for a leadership role in a care setting should consider the Skills for Care Graduate Management Programme. Alternatively, the Worthwhile graduate scheme offers a route into a social impact role.

What are the key issues in social care?

Funding for the sector remains a major challenge. Tens of thousands of older and disabled people are being denied basic support due to the escalating financial crisis within social care. According to the 2019 report 'What's the problem with social care, and why do we need to do better?' adult social care spending fell by almost 10% between 2009/10 and 2016/17. And due to an ageing population and younger adults with disabilities living longer the social care system is under a huge strain. Based on the current spending figures, an estimated UK funding gap of £18billion could open up by 2030. Within adult social care the impact of this funding crisis means that 400,000 fewer adults are receiving the support they need, as local authorities have to prioritise the most severe cases.

The health Foundations 'A sustainable workforce-the lifeblood of the NHS and social care' report highlights that at any one time there are more than 80,000 social care vacancies in England. According to Skills for Care employers struggle to find, recruit and retain suitable candidates and that a large proportion of staff turnover is due to people leaving the sector soon after joining. The social care industry also has difficulties in retaining younger workers.

This is exacerbated by a lack of knowledge of the social care sector among young people, something that Skills for Care is keen to address with its Graduate Management Programme. The scheme aims to raise awareness of adult social care roles and attract more graduates into this area of work.

Given the overstretched workforce, emerging technologies have a growing role in the sector. Robotic systems can help the elderly stay independent for longer and wearable technology could free up staff in care homes. However, in a sector that is based on care, emotional support and human interaction there is some concern that new technology could take over and replace human jobs, having a negative impact on service users.

Find out more

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