How to Become a Support Worker
Working as a support worker can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding. If you are interested in becoming a support worker, you need to be aware of what the role involves, the training required and how to go about securing a position. At the heart of all care and support work must be a passion for working with people in need.
In this article, we will outline the roles and responsibilities required, which qualifications and skills you may need in order to pursue this career and how you can meet these requirements to become a support worker.
What Does a Support Worker Do?
The role of a support worker varies depending on the setting you work in and who you work with. However, the work focuses on helping those with care and support needs to live as independently as possible.
Support workers are often required to:
- Help individuals with their personal care tasks, such as bathing.
- Provide emotional and social support – this may extend to their loved ones also.
- Ensure the health needs of those they support are being met – such as administering medications.
- Support people to reach their goals so that they can live as independently as possible and maintain a sense of fulfilment and wellbeing.
- Be aware of any changes in health or behaviour and report them accordingly.
- Give person-centred support, always working in-line with their individual care plan.
- Understand risk assessments and how they relate to the support that you provide.
- Provide moving and handling support and understand the safe and appropriate use of mobility aids and other equipment.
- Help manage continence care needs.
- Complete the necessary records for care that has been provided. For example, medication administration records (MAR charts), fluid and food charts, repositioning records and detailed reports of care visits.
- Support individuals with everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping, paying bills and getting to and from appointments or social engagements.
- Work with other healthcare professionals in the management of the individual’s care and support.
- Be able to listen and communicate effectively to ensure you can provide support in a way that the person prefers and to enable you to meet their needs.
- Encourage and support involvement in hobbies, interests, education or forming and maintaining meaningful connections and relationships.
It is important to not assume what a role will entail based solely on the job title. The role of a support worker and its many titles can vary enormously and you should always look for a detailed description of the role and the person specification to ensure it is the right one for you.
Different Types of Support Workers
There are many titles a support worker that are used interchangeably and represent similar roles and duties. The choice of the job title used often comes down to the organisation itself. As these are modernised and amended over time, you may see various names used for the same role. However, there are several roles that work in specialised areas and these are usually referred to by a specific title.
Examples of titles you may see when looking at support worker roles include:
- Nursing assistant.
- Care support worker.
- Home care/domiciliary worker.
- Nursing auxiliary.
- Health care assistant.
- Physiotherapy assistant.
- Occupational therapy support worker.
- Mental health support worker.
- Personal assistant.
- Language and speech therapy assistant.
- Podiatry assistant.
A support worker role could involve looking after numerous individuals, such as those in hospital and GP settings, care homes or within the community. In these cases, those you support could have a variety of needs that you may need to be familiar with, such as declining health, dementia, mental health issues, physical disabilities or learning disabilities.
Finding the right support role for you may mean looking at the typical hours and shift patterns you’d be required to work, the type of environment you would be in, the specific needs of those you would be working with and whether you would like to work with numerous people or you would prefer to dedicate your support to just one individual.
If you think you’d like to work in the health and social care sector but you are unsure in what capacity, you may find it useful to look at our article about the variety of careers in health and social care.
What are the Skills and Qualities of a Good Support Worker?
If you are new to care and don’t feel that you have the qualifications or experience needed to secure a role, don’t be put off. Much of the training required for support worker roles can be done on the job and there are a variety of roots available into the sector. The primary requirement of a good support worker is in their nature, values and ability to show kindness and empathy.
The key qualities and skills required of a support worker include:
- Friendliness and a kind and caring nature.
- Compassion and understanding.
- Excellent communication skills.
- Being a good listener.
- Problem solving skills and adaptability.
- Being patient.
- Organisational skills, including time management.
- An ability to build trust and relationships with others.
- Remaining calm in challenging situations.
- Having a desire to help people and to promote independence and wellbeing.
- Understanding the importance of privacy, dignity and respect.
- A sensitive approach to support work.
- A non-judgmental attitude to others.
- A willingness to continually learn and develop.
Support workers will require training to ensure they can fulfil their role safely, appropriately and in line with best practice. Training also ensures that their work complies with the relevant legislation and guidance at all times. However, the above qualities and skills make up the foundations of a good support worker, and without those, high-quality, person centred care is not possible.
Want to Learn More?
We have a range of Health and Social Care Courses, such as Communication Skills in Health & Social Care and Mental Health Awareness to help ensure you have the knowledge you need to support every individual’s needs.
What Qualifications Does a Support Worker Require?
Support worker roles are often entry-level positions and there are no set entry requirements, however, being able to demonstrate good literacy and numeracy skills is usually expected. When it comes to qualifications, it can all get a little confusing. Different organisations have different requirements to enable you to secure a role as a support worker, as well as using different terms for the qualifications required.
Let’s first look at how you can get into a support worker role. You could apply directly (many places offer training whilst in the job), take on an apprenticeship, or take a college course. The qualification route you take will depend on several factors and your grades at GCSE (or equivalent) can determine which route of qualification you take.
Level 1 Certificate in Health and Social Care
Those with two or fewer GCSEs at grades 3 to 1 (D to G) would likely take the Level 1 Certificate in Health and Social Care – an introduction to the sector. This is an excellent pathway for those who want a career in health and social care but do not have the required grades to begin with level 2 study.
Level 2 Diploma in Care
Those with two or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) may take the Level 2 Diploma in Care. This level helps you gain a solid knowledge base and involves practical, work-related experience, often through a work placement one day a week.
A relatively new initiative is that of T Levels. These are an alternative to standard A levels and are offered to 16-19 year olds in a range of subject areas. If you have four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and Maths, you may be able to take a T Level in Health.
Apprenticeships offer another route into health and social care and involve on the job training and time out of work for study (at least 20% of the apprentices working hours). The work is paid at either an apprentice rate or national minimum wage, depending on age. To search for an apprenticeship in England, you may find it useful to look on the Government’s website here.
National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ)
When looking to apply directly to a company that either requires you to have experience and qualifications in place already or that offers you on the job training, you may come across the mention of NVQ, QCF (Qualification and Credit Framework) or RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework).
It can be hard to understand how that translates to the above qualifications as there is quite a history with these. Generally, the introduction of the different types came about to introduce changes to the learning structure, flexibility and transferability between careers and sectors.
Whilst the introduction to each new qualification aimed to phase out the existing one, reference to this study as an NVQ still holds quite strong. Regardless of what name this qualification is gained under, the validity of an awarded certificate will continue to stand. The same applies for a diploma course and an NVQ, for example, the NVQ Level 2 is an earlier version of the Level 2 Diploma in Care.
For anyone who wants to gain more knowledge of health and social care and the role of a support worker, but is not currently in employment or a training programme, taking the initiative to undertake some online learning can be hugely beneficial.
A great place to start is with our Care Certificate course. This provides you with in-depth knowledge and theory of the 15 Care Standards. To learn more about this training and why it is important, take a look at our article – What is the Care Certificate & Why is it Important?
How to Secure a Job as a Support Worker
We have discussed how there are many different routes that you could take to get into a support worker role and the qualifications required to do so. There are, however, a few ways to help you secure a job when competition is high. To aid you in your recruitment journey, it is important to highlight what you would bring to the role. Showcase any qualities you possess and any transferable skills (soft skills) you could utilise.
It is one thing to list the qualities and skills you possess, but being able to evidence them can be incredibly beneficial. Volunteer work always looks great, even if it involves caring for a loved one, but don’t worry if you haven’t had that or any experience in a health and social care environment as such. You can discuss examples from life events or from other job roles, or your education. These can demonstrate a time you showed certain qualities or gained and used certain skills in practice.
It is useful to look around for job advertisements so you can get an idea of what the different roles involve, what is available, what various organisations are looking for in their staff, and also what career opportunities and training they offer. Looking on different job sites can provide good insights and exploring the options on the NHS Jobs website or your Local Council website is a great place to find jobs in social care.
You can enquire with local organisations, who may be able to provide you with volunteer opportunities even if they don’t have any current or appropriate job vacancies. Working within your community can also help to support your future career goals.
Becoming a support worker can be an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding role. There are varied routes of study and employment and you are not limited by previous work experience or school exam results – there is a path for everyone. Remember that your values, personal qualities and skills are the foundation for becoming a good support worker, who is able to provide high-quality care and support.
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