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What does a care worker do?
A care worker is sometimes also known as a carer, caregiver, care assistant, care support worker or nursing home assistant. There are various care worker types, including domiciliary care workers, residential care workers, live-in care assistants, community carers, etc. They can specialise in specific aspects of care, such as disabilities (physical and learning), mental health, dementia, the elderly, vulnerable children and adults, substance misuse and end-of-life. Therefore, what a care worker does will depend on their type of role, where they work and the people they look after.
A care worker can work in various settings, such as residential care homes, nursing homes, hospices, people’s homes, daycare facilities and the community. They will carry out many tasks, including following care plans, assisting service users with their day-to-day activities and personal needs, supporting their emotional and mental well-being and monitoring their health. The role may also require ad hoc administrative work, such as developing care plans and completing records and reports.
A care worker’s main aim is to provide person-centred care to help vulnerable people to live as independently as possible. They are trained professionals who support vulnerable people in all aspects of their daily life and can make a real difference to their lives.
Care workers will work with many colleagues (including agency staff) of different levels. They may also be required to liaise with other external stakeholders, including service users and their family/friends, other health care and social care professionals (e.g. doctors and nurses), Care Quality Commission inspectors and local authorities.
Care workers can work in workplaces of all different sizes, from smaller care homes or daycare facilities to large premises with many employees and residents, e.g. nursing homes. Some care workers can work solely in the community with their base from a home or office. Some may also choose to be self-employed or freelance.
A care worker’s responsibilities will depend on the role and needs of the individuals they are caring for and supporting. Some of the duties include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Meeting with service users and their family/guardians/friends.
- Identifying service users’ particular needs and developing care plans.
- Getting to know service users’ interests.
- Providing person-centred care at all times.
- Preparing, cooking and serving food (and drinks).
- Helping service users to wash, dress, eat, drink, go to the toilet and take medication (depending on their needs).
- Carrying out or helping with various tasks, e.g. shopping, laundry, cleaning or studying.
- Monitor service users’ health and conditions, e.g. weight, temperature, blood pressure and medications.
- Providing emotional and practical support to service users and their families.
- Booking and getting service users to appointments, e.g. GP, dentist and hospital.
- Recording important information in line with the individual’s care plan.
- Understanding and complying with relevant laws, e.g. care, food safety and hygiene, allergens and health and safety.
- Maintaining a clean and hygienic work environment and equipment at all times.
- Helping organise social events, leisure activities and outings.
- Working with other health and social care professionals.
- Ensuring service users are comfortable, happy, at ease and well-cared for at all times.
- Complying with company policies, procedures, care plans and risk assessments.
A care worker can expect to work 35–40 hours a week, but they can do more or fewer hours depending on the requirements of their role and the service user’s needs.
Some care worker jobs involve long shifts, i.e. up to 12 hours a day. Most of this time will require care workers to be on their feet, and it may also require some heavy lifting, e.g. moving and lifting people, so they must have a certain fitness level.
Being a care worker is not a 9–5 job, and those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working unsociable hours. There is usually a requirement to work different shifts, including evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays. There may be some roles that offer set days and hours. However, there may be a requirement for overtime in busy periods.
Travel will be a requirement for a care worker working in the community and visiting people’s homes, which will lengthen the working day.
What to expect
Being a care worker is not easy, but it is an incredibly rewarding career choice. Care workers provide vital care and support for vulnerable people and help them live as independently as possible. Care workers can go home at the end of the working day knowing they have made a difference to service users’ and their families’ lives. They are also classed as key workers and are respected and appreciated in society.
There is no shortage of care worker (and related) roles, jobs available nationally, and many different areas to specialise. Some care worker jobs offer flexible hours so individuals can fit their careers around their own personal lives. Care workers also receive regular training and practical learning, which can boost their CV and overall career prospects.
Boredom will never be a problem for care workers, as their work is very varied and fast-paced. They may meet and care for many different people with various individual needs throughout their shifts.
Even though being a care worker is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:
- Physical demands – care workers can get extremely busy during their shifts, especially when travelling in the community. It is also physically demanding work. Individuals can spend all day on their feet and often need to carry out manual handling as part of the role. Care workers wear protective clothing, which may get hot and uncomfortable.
- Mental demands – being a care worker can be mentally and emotionally demanding, especially when dealing with individuals with complex needs. It is not easy seeing vulnerable people struggling to cope with what is going on in their lives. Some individuals may be difficult to deal with and try to resist care. There is also a likelihood of seeing dying and deceased service users, which some individuals may find difficult.
- Fast-paced – working as a care worker can be fast-paced and stressful, especially working with many service users during a shift. Being able to cope with pressure and multiple demands is essential.
- Difficult working conditions – care workers will usually be hands-on with service users. Therefore, they will need to be comfortable helping them wash, go to the toilet and assist them during illness. If individuals would not feel comfortable doing these tasks, it is probably not the career for them.
- Health and safety risks – working in care can be hazardous. Care workers can face many hazards, e.g. scalds and burns, sharp injuries, violence, manual handling, hazardous substances, slips, trips and falls and work-related stress. Working shifts and nights and early mornings can affect sleep patterns, increasing the risks. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website has further information on health and safety in health and social care.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective care workers must know what to expect before deciding whether the role is for them. Working in a health and social care environment is difficult and stressful. It is physically and mentally demanding, requires work in challenging environments, and the hours are long and unsociable. However, there are many positives too, and helping vulnerable people is why individuals enter the profession.
When considering whether to be a care worker and the type of role, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a care worker
Some of the personal qualities that a care worker requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for helping people.
- Friendly, caring, empathetic, approachable with a good sense of humour.
- Knowledge of related legislation and standards.
- Knowledge of maths and the English language.
- Knowledge of health and safety and infection control.
- Knowledge of food safety and hygiene.
- Knowledge of confidentiality, data protection and the GDPR.
- Sensitivity, understanding, self-awareness and non-judgemental.
- Strong problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
- Strong communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Time management skills.
- English, number, digital and employability skills.
- Customer service skills.
- Listening skills.
- Organisational skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to build strong relationships and trust with service users and their families.
- The ability to understand and follow instructions, policies and procedures, especially care plans.
- The ability to work both with others and alone using own initiative.
- The ability to accept criticism.
- The ability to work under pressure and remain patient and calm in stressful situations (even if service users are agitated, nervous, anxious or aggressive).
- The ability to remain professional in emotionally demanding situations.
- The ability to use IT equipment for basic tasks, e.g. writing care plans and reports and making records.
- The ability to work long and often unsociable hours.
There are many different ways to become a chef. One way is by taking a relevant university or college qualification or enrolling on an apprenticeship.
Course levels – Level 1 and 2 courses, T Levels and Diplomas.
- Level 1 – two or fewer GCSEs at grades 3 to 1 (D to G) or equivalent.
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3 and T Levels – four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent (including English and maths for a T Level).
Example courses – Level 1 Certificate in Health and Social Care, Level 2 Diploma in Care, T Level in Health, and Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care.
There is an apprenticeship route to becoming a care worker.
- Intermediate level – some GCSEs, usually including English and Maths or equivalent.
- Advanced level – five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent, including English and maths.
Further information on care apprentice courses can be found on the Skills for Care website.
Opportunities are also found on the Government’s Apprenticeships website.
On the job training and volunteering
There are no formal academic or training requirements to become a care worker. Therefore, gaining qualifications is not the only route into the role. However, some employers may stipulate that basic qualifications are required, e.g. GCSE maths and English. Individuals need to have the right personal qualities, values and behaviours at the very least.
There may be an opportunity to work with vulnerable people (as a care assistant or trainee) in various settings and learn on the job by shadowing more experienced care workers. Some employers also provide full training and support for those without training or experience. On-the-job training can lead to becoming a care worker with the right experience, training and supervision.
There is no substitute for practical experience. Volunteering can also help individuals understand what is involved in being a care worker and help them build their knowledge and skills. Charities, care homes, hospitals and hospices may provide practical experience. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Having any work experience relevant to care can be beneficial and can help an individual work towards becoming a care worker. Even care experience at home or for someone else can count.
Training courses to become a care worker
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help care workers enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training providers can provide training courses. We also offer numerous care courses.
Some examples of relevant courses that may be useful for care workers include:
- The Care Certificate (usually part of the 12-week induction scheme).
- Food hygiene training.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Allergen awareness.
- Additional health and safety training, e.g. COSHH, work-related violence, lone working, slips, trips and falls, and manual handling.
- First aid.
- Customer service skills.
- Equality, inclusion and diversity.
- Autism awareness.
There are also courses in specific areas of care, such as:
- Administering medication.
- Needles and sharps.
- Infection control.
- Mental capacity and health Acts.
- Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS).
- Dignity in care.
- Person-centred care.
Professional bodies, associations and charities, such as the National Association of Care & Support Workers (NACAS), the National Care Association, Skills for Care, Skills for Health and the Care Workers’ Charity can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become care workers, giving them the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for and the types of care in which care workers specialise. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training courses required for care worker roles and other training needed for specialist areas. Jobs are on websites, such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Care Jobs UK, Care Home Jobs UK and other job sites.
If care workers have more relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge), it will open up more opportunities. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement and keeps knowledge and skills up to date.
Criminal records checks
Care workers must undergo a criminal record check, as they will have contact with vulnerable people. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, they should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Some care workers will be required to drive as part of their role, especially if they work in the community. Therefore, they should have a full clean driving licence.
Where do care workers work?
Care workers can work for agencies, private companies, the NHS, charities, voluntary organisations, hospices and local authorities in a variety of establishments, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Residential care homes.
- Nursing homes.
- Daycare centres.
- The service user’s home.
- In extra care housing, e.g. sheltered housing/assisted living/supported living.
- Retirement villages.
- In the community.
- Their own home (as a base for community work).
There are also opportunities for care workers to be self-employed or freelance.
How much do care workers earn?
A care worker’s salary will depend on their qualifications, experience, location (i.e. London supplement), shift times, role and whether they choose to be self-employed, for example (these are only a guide):
- Entry level – £13,500+ a year.
- Average – £18,000 a year.
- Experienced – £25,000+ a year.
If a care worker works for a local authority or the NHS, they will be paid in line with grades and bands.
The downside to being a care worker in an entry-level position is that salaries are relatively low. The more qualifications and experience a care worker gains, the more earning potential they will have, especially if they decide to specialise or enter a more senior role.
Care workers may get other benefits, such as overtime, flexible working hours, accommodation, meals, training, mileage, pension scheme and employee assistance programmes.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of care working roles to specialise in
Not only are there opportunities for care workers to move up the career ladder and work in various locations and settings, but there are also many different roles in which they can specialise, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- Adult care – supporting and caring for vulnerable adults aged 18–65.
- Children’s care – supporting and caring for vulnerable babies and young children.
- Elderly (senior) care – supporting and caring for elderly service users.
- Learning disability care – supporting and caring for people with learning disabilities. They usually work in community-based or supported-living settings.
- Physical disability care – supporting and caring for people with physical disabilities.
- Mental health care – supporting and caring for people with various mental health issues.
- End-of-life care – supporting and caring for people who are dying.
In addition to the above roles, care workers can also specialise in specific areas, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Domiciliary care worker – works in the community and travels to different people’s houses. They are sometimes also known as home carers or community care workers.
- Night care worker – provides overnight care.
- Live-in care worker – lives and provides around-the-clock care in a service user’s home. They are sometimes known as shared lives care workers and can also look after service users in their own homes.
- Residential care worker – works in homes run by private companies, local authorities and others.
- Support worker – provides additional help, e.g. housing advice, learning, cooking and other life skills, budgeting, and emotional support and befriending.
- Dementia care worker – works with people who have dementia.
- Respite care worker – steps in for full-time caregivers to give them a break.
All different care worker roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. However, all care workers must be caring, empathetic, patient and approachable. They will need to know how to give the best person-centred care in line with the individual service user’s needs. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for in a care worker and the type of work a care worker wants.
If care workers do not carry out their role effectively and safely, it can cause harm to vulnerable service users and, in severe cases, may even cost lives. Therefore, whatever the type of role, care workers must have the necessary competence (knowledge, skills and experience) to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency.
Caring standards, technology, techniques and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, care workers must keep abreast with the latest developments and changes in legislation to remain legally compliant and ensure they carry out their roles effectively and safely. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives care workers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them to provide the best possible care and progress in their career.
Joining a professional body, association or charity can help prospective and current care workers enhance their skills and overall career. National Association of Care & Support Workers (NACAS), the National Care Association, Skills for Care, Skills for Health and the Care Workers’ Charity offer different levels of membership, CPD and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression within health and social care; it is a diverse field. With more qualifications and experience, a care worker can become a supervisor, a senior care worker and even a care home manager. They can also decide to focus on a specific area of care, such as dementia, learning disabilities and the elderly. Alternatively, they may choose to become self-employed.
Knowledge, skills and experience in care can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, a care worker may want to work in other aspects of health and social care, especially if they decide to do more qualifications, e.g. nursing and social work. Further information on alternative job roles can be found on Skills for Care.