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Support workers often work silently in society, enabling people with illness, disability and learning difficulties to do everyday things many of us take for granted.
Support worker roles vary and depend on the type of person you work with, the environment and the capacity. Yet support work is usually flexible and provides a great opportunity for anyone wishing to start a career in the care industry.
As a support worker you’ll be working with lots of different people with varying care needs. You can choose whether to work with adults or with children, and what capacity or environment you work within.
At UK Care Guide we specialise in providing information for those searching for care, and for the individuals who want to make a difference and work in care themselves. If you are considering a job as a support worker, this handy guide offers advice and guidance along with everything you need to know before applying for a job.
Here is a video where a support worker discusses their role. This provides a early good insight.
A support worker generally provides assistance for people who are vulnerable – either through mental illness or disability. They can work in a residential or respite environment, or work outside in the community taking individuals shopping, swimming or to social events.
As a support worker you’ll be required to attend to both mental and physical needs – including washing, dressing, counselling and learning support. Mostly support workers deal with the following individuals:
This list isn’t exhaustive – and it’s likely that as a support worker you’ll be dealing with people of all ages from lots of different backgrounds with varying requirements and personalities.
Your responsibilities as a support worker could include (but are not limited to):
Your role might not include all of the above – or you may be expected to do more.
Your position and responsibilities will depend on the type of environment you are in. Whatever task you are carrying out, it’s important to remember that your basic purpose is support – in all senses. This means ensuring that the person in your care is properly provided for and feels safe at all times.
You will need to provide support in so many ways as detailed above – yet the specific requirements of the individual you are dealing with at any given time are likely to be unique. You’ll need to have a friendly, caring attitude and be willing to go the extra mile for the people you work with.
Your input should allow service users to live independently and to feel as though they are developing and enjoying life despite any disabilities or constraints they may have. This is why the role is so varied and includes fun aspects (like creative groups, days out and recreational activities) as well as more serious elements (personal care, emotional support and dealing with physical or behavioural issues).
As a support worker you may be working out in the community, or within a residential environment, for example a children’s home or adult care unit. There are some crossovers with the role of a care assistant, but how much will depend on where you work and who with.
The examples below are all types of support worker vacancies – from this list you can see just how varied and diverse this type of work can be.
Which type of support worker job you choose depends on your personal preference and qualifications. If you’ve previously worked in a care home with the elderly then a position in an adult day care centre could be a refreshing change.
Again your salary will depend on your role and the company you work for. If you work in the public sector full-time you can expect to earn around £18,000 a year on average.
Some private companies employ support workers on a flexible freelance basis. The pay for these positions usually attracts a slightly higher hourly rate – usually between £8 and £10 per hour.
If you work for a private company on an ad-hoc basis you will be responsible for your own tax. This means you’ll be required to fill out a self-assessment tax return, and may be subject to additional tax payments if you have other additional sources of income.
If you love working with people and would like to make a difference in your community then a job as a support work could definitely be right for you. There are however a few things you need to consider before deciding on a career as a support worker:
You may need to lift, restrain and wash the individuals you care for – so if you struggle with strenuous activities or have any health problems or disabilities of your own this type of work may not be suitable for you.
Often the types of learning difficulties you’ll work with can cause difficult behaviour. This can involve hitting, kicking, spitting and toileting issues. You’ll need to be prepared to deal with this – although you should be given full training by your employer prior to coming into contact with difficult service users.
The nature of some of the behaviours and special needs you’ll be dealing with can be unpredictable, which can cause you to be caught off guard. You’ll need to be aware of the things which can distress or upset service users and support and comfort them when needed. A knowledge of conditions and how they affect individuals may be useful.
You will be expected to carry out a range of different tasks with different service users. One day will vary from the next and you may be required to do things which are not part of your basic job description from time to time. Sometimes you’ll work independently, at others you’ll be working closely with other team members.
Most residential support worker jobs involve some aspect of personal care – including washing, dressing and toileting. If you aren’t comfortable with this you’ll need to find a position which doesn’t involve personal care.
Support worker jobs can involve liaising with families, other staff and healthcare professionals, so it’s important that you are able to get your message across coherently and professionally. You may also need to complete reports and logs, so good literacy skills are required. You should also be able to work well individually as well as part of a team.
Based on the above information and given the amount of support worker roles available you’ll need to assess which type of position is best for you before sending applications or searching for jobs.
You can then look for specific criteria which indicates that a position is suitable for you. If you have other commitments (such as family, studies or another job) you’ll need to take this into account when browsing support worker vacancies and choosing a role.
The hours involved with support worker jobs will depend on the role you take and the environment in which you work. Residential support worker vacancies are often offered on a full-time basis, and involve shift patterns which include nights and weekends. These are usually around 37-40 hour per week positions. You may also be expected to spend time on-call if you work in a 24 hour establishment – this is usually the case with residential placements.
If you prefer flexible work or wish to work part-time then there are support worker jobs which are suitable for you. Some positions can be temporary to provide relief or maternity cover, whilst others offer work on an ‘ad-hoc’ agency basis.
If you don’t feel that the responsibilities and tasks you’ve read about regarding support worker jobs are for you, then there are other options you could consider.
These include working in school as a teaching assistant, working with other members of the community as a healthcare assistant, or working in a care home. Youth and social work is also incredibly rewarding but has different specifications and responsibilities which may be more suited to you.
You can find more information on other types of caregiver roles here on the UK Care Guide website.
Not all support worker roles will require a formal qualification, but it is always advantageous to possess at least one relevant qualification for a number of reasons.
Generally employers favour life experience over formal qualifications, but a BTEC in Health and Social Care or similar subject may give you an advantage over other candidates. Most of all you’ll need to demonstrate that you have a caring and considerate attitude, but you’ll also need to prove that you have strong communication skills and can be discreet when required.
This often comes with experience and can be testified by referees who you have worked with previously. It may be possible for you to enter into support worker jobs without any qualification if you have a lot of relevant experience in dealing with vulnerable members of society in a caregiving capacity.
If you’re new to the care industry, experience of support worker jobs can be gained through a number of methods. You could volunteer at a youth club, a centre for adults with learning difficulties or even at a hospital or hospice. Social work and previous experience in a care home or nursery are also relevant.
You can find a list of volunteering programmes on websites for associations such as Do It or Volunteering England. Alternatively you can contact appropriate charities to see whether they have volunteering opportunities.
It’s additionally useful to gain qualifications and attend courses on specific conditions and needs as this will help you to do your job more easily and competently. Gaining a better understanding of the conditions the people you’re working with have can be incredibly useful and enables you to provide better care and deal with difficult situations which may arise.
Additionally appreciating resulting behaviours and their causes can allow you to communicate better with individuals and make a greater difference to their lives. It may also allow you to progress to a higher position.
You may also need to complete a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check if you are working with children or vulnerable young people and adults.
Progression is certainly a possibility for those who start with support worker jobs and wish to work their way up. You could use your time as a support worker as a stepping stone to a teaching job or a professional medical or psychological role. There are also often management positions available in establishments which employ support workers, so you may be able to take a job overseeing a team or managing a unit.
Support worker jobs are usually posted publicly but will also be advertised on the site of the establishment or company you’ll be working for.
You can find support worker jobs by looking at the current vacancies on our care jobs board, which you can access at the bottom of this page.
For example, support worker vacancies within the public sector may be found on the NHS or local authority website, whilst those in the private sector will be advertised on the provider’s main website. Both types of support worker jobs should also be found on general job sites.
You may also find jobs advertised in local papers or by word of mouth for small agencies who take on support workers in a freelance capacity. This is a fantastic way to take your first step towards a career in care or as a full-time support worker, as you’ll gain plenty of experience and can fit the work in around studies or another job.
The best way to save time and increase your chances of success when finding and applying for support worker jobs is to visit targeted job sites where you’ll find appropriate positions in your area all in one place. This was you can quickly apply for several jobs at once, rather than trawling the internet to find them on separate sites.
Most employers now have online application facilities which enable you to answer preliminary questions and upload your CV for consideration. You may also be able to apply via email.
When applying, ensure your CV is up to date and is tailored to the position you’re applying for. For example, if the application asks for certain experience which you have but don’t currently mention on your CV, make these situations a focus point and remove something which may not be relevant for this application in particular. It’s also a good idea to do some research on the company you’ll be working for, as this enables you to impress them with your knowledge and understanding of their ethos and way of working.
The easiest option may be to upload your CV to our job site (which you can do below) and allow potential employers to contact you directly.
Here’s also a useful video about writing a good CV.
More information on support worker jobs at entry level is available on the government’s National Careers Service website, whilst you can read more about a range of related care jobs here on the UK Care Guide website.
We recommend that you load up your CV to the site or use our job search facility to look for jobs straight away. You can do this below.