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Social Work & Social Care | The Careers Service Social Work & Social Care – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

Social care is about providing physical, emotional and social support to people of all ages who are facing difficult situations. If you are passionate about empowering people and are looking for a career that can be challenging but also rewarding, then this sector is well worth exploring. The sector helps two million UK users access support through 30,000 provider organisations, and there are a wide range of roles which aren’t just limited to that of a social worker. There are I.48 million people who work in social care in a range of settings – including the community, hospitals, hostels and shelters, health centres, care homes, education and advice centres and clients homes.

Two main distinctions exist in the social care field, as the work splits between Adult and Child & Family social services.

Working with adults includes support for the elderly, people with mental health issues, learning and physical disabilities, alcohol and substance abuse problems, the homeless, and victims of domestic abuse.

Working with children, young people and families involves work in fostering, adoption and child protection, with young offenders, with child protection issues, and with youngsters who are unemployed, homeless, or who have learning and physical disabilities.

There is increasing overlap between social care and healthcare roles. Similar values and qualities are needed in both. For work in the NHS, see NHS Careers.

Entry points

Given the wide range of roles in social care, the entry requirements vary considerably, and further qualifications may be necessary for some roles (eg. counsellor, play therapist and social worker), whilst for other jobs building up relevant experience is more important than further study (eg. advice worker, community development worker, community education officer). Further information about entry points across the sector can be found at Graduate Jobs in Social Care on the Prospects website.

Social work

To enter the field of Social Work the qualifications you have need to be accredited by the Health and Care Professions Council, HCPC  – you can search for approved courses on the HCPC website.

For all courses relevant experience is vital (see ’Getting Experience’ below).

Bursaries are available to train as a social worker and these are administered by the NHS Business Services Authority. If you have any queries about bursaries or student funding – for instance, if you wish to know whether you will be entitled to a bursary, or how to apply for one – then you should visit their website or call them on 0300 330 1342.

A small number of these courses are for those currently in employment and training to be a social worker. Bursaries are not available for these courses.

Graduate Schemes

Think Ahead is a new fast track two year programme (launched in 2015) for graduates to become mental health social workers. Participants will focus on adult mental health, will qualify as social workers in their first year, and finish the programme after two years with a master’s degree in social work. Look out for them at our annual Oxford Careers Fair which is held in October.

Frontline launched a new training route several years ago for graduates wishing to become children’s social workers. Keep an eye on their website – where you can sign up for updates – for application details and deadlines. The two year programme includes 12 months intensive on-the-job training and education, followed by a second year working as a newly qualified social worker. Participants will be paid during the programme and will complete a Masters over the two years. Frontline usually attend the annual Oxford Careers Fair in October.

Step Up to Social Work is a 14 month tailored training programme designed for graduates or career changers which enables trainees to work towards a qualification (Postgraduate Diploma in Social Work) to practise as a social worker whilst gaining intensive hands-on experience. Trainees will have their course fees paid for and bursaries are available as well.

The National Skills Academy run a year long National Graduate Management Training Scheme for graduates interested in a management career in adult social care.

Skills and experience

Skills needed

Relevant experience is usually necessary (see below), however, the fundamental skills needed for most roles include:

  • patience and the ability to remain calm in a crisis
  • resilience
  • flexibility to adapt to new roles, tasks and situations
  • initiative
  • strong observation, analytical and listening skills
  • the capacity to absorb legal/procedural information
  • the ability to negotiate/mediate/interpret on behalf of clients

Getting experience

If you haven’t previously worked in a social care-related role, volunteering is an excellent way to explore the world of social work and social care, and to demonstrate your ability and enthusiasm when you’d like to take it further.

There are plenty of volunteering opportunities available at Oxford:

  • The Oxford Hub is the focal point for students interested in social and charitable causes in Oxford. They give students advice on volunteering opportunities based on their areas of interest. You might also wish to sign up for ‘The Week’, their regular email of opportunities.

There are also opportunities directly with charities, such as:

In addition general volunteering can often demonstrate similar skills:

  • Volunteering Matters, offers a range of voluntary opportunities.
  • Do-it, or Vinspired have  details of volunteering opportunities in your area and also visit Volunteering England.
  • TimeBank, is a national charity inspiring and connecting people to volunteer in their communities, and enabling charitable organisations and businesses to develop innovative and effective volunteer recruitment programmes. On their website you can ask a question about volunteering, read inspiring stories or register to do voluntary work.
  • Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action.

It is worth checking the vacancies on our website by logging in to CareerConnect and searching by the job function ‘Health and Social Care’. Also come to our OX Postcode Fair as local organisations which offer part-time and full-time care work often attend.

For more on work experience for a career in social work see the TargetJOBS webpage.

If you do arrange work experience, there is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Our resources


The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • Becoming a Social Worker – Global Narratives, Viviene E. Cree
  • Starting Social Work – Reflections of a Newly Qualified Social Worker, Rebecca Joy Novell
  • Counselling as a Career, Robert Ross
  • Getting into Counselling, Jeff Riley


The following journals may be of interest:

Podcasts of Past Events

Careers in the Public Sector, February 2016 

This podcast allows you to hear from three speakers working in a variety of roles within the public sector, covering public policy (both international and national), the police force and social work (in this order). The podcast finishes with further discussion arising from questions taken from the audience.

Careers with Social & Community Impact, February 2014

This podcast will give you the chance to hear from three speakers who are all working in quite different roles but whose work makes an impact on their local communities.

External resources

General vacancies & sector information

Sector vacancies

Regulators, associations & institutions

This information was last updated on 23 November 2017.
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