The social care sector has its share of challenges but can offer a rewarding career in a variety of roles for graduates who are determined to make a difference

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.

Social workers are employed in a variety of the above areas while in larger organisations there are management and administration roles in HR, finance, IT and marketing.

There is also 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 roles 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:

  • to find employment opportunities throughout the UK, with the highest concentration of jobs in large towns and cities
  • opportunities to work in a variety of settings including care homes, clients' homes, community centres, hostels, probation offices, homeless shelters, schools, Jobcentres, council or charity offices etc.
  • to work unsociable hours, such as evenings and weekends, particularly in residential care and community work
  • to work on temporary or fixed-term contracts depending on your role - many jobs are subject to the renewal of funding
  • to deal with stressful or emotionally difficult situations, helping clients who are upset or angry. This could particularly be the case in child protection, counselling and social worker roles
  • to work in a multi-disciplinary team, perhaps alongside health workers
  • to spend a substantial amount of time in the office, particularly in roles such as care manager, counsellor, psychotherapist and social worker
  • to frequently work one-to-one or with groups of clients
  • to travel locally between appointments or work settings.

What are the key issues in the social care sector?

Funding is a major challenge. In fact it's one of the sector's biggest crisis areas. Local government budget cuts have significantly increased the financial pressure on the social care system and this cannot be ignored. Funding needs to be increased if the sector is to successfully deal with the growing and ageing population, fund new technologies and meet public expectation. According to The Health Foundation's NHS and social care funding briefing paper the social care funding gap, i.e the gap between costs and revenue, is projected to reach £2.1billion by 2019/20.

The recruitment and retention of workers is another area of concern. The Health Foundation has found that at any one time there are 80,000 vacancies for social care jobs in England. In 2016 health and social work accounted for 15% (118,000) of all vacancies in the UK economy. The Skills for Care State of the adult social care sector in England report (2016) estimates that just under 340,000 social care employees leave their jobs each year.

Recruitment difficulties are 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 . The scheme aims to raise awareness of adult social care roles and attract more graduates into this particular area of work.

The report also discovered that vacancy rates for social workers in the statutory sector have increased from 7% in 2012 to 11% in 2016 with staff turnover rates continuing to rise.

These figures support the fact that there has been a drop in the number of graduates entering social work training in recent years. While social worker vacancies rise the number of students on courses has decreased, creating a demand for social workers that employers are keen to fill. Find out more about social work courses.

In order to improve the quality of care the integration of health and social care services is becoming increasingly important. With an ageing population and an increasing demand on services in both sectors, agencies must start working together to adopt joined up working practices to ensure that patients and service users receive the care and treatment they need. Greater Manchester was the first locality in England to merge its health and social care sectors in 2016 and other local authorities may look to follow suit in the near future.