Career Changers in Health and Social Care – do we have wasted potential? – Tracy Walters, Careerwave


In my job I have the privilege of providing career guidance to many people. And when I say many, I don’t just mean people of different ages, genders and social and economic backgrounds. I mean people who hold a diverse set of expectations, aspirations and values, people who are motivated by different factors, where the dynamics of their circumstances impact on their choices.

In this article I am examining how, as career professionals and educators we can do more to encourage more people, who have often written themselves out of their career narrative and are arguably seen in society as ‘too long in the tooth’, to start a new career.

I come from a village that hasn’t fully recovered from the mine closures of the 1990s. A village where you can the effect of those socio-economic dynamics is visual and tangible. Every day I see people who are in both need of health and social care and those who deliver it, often going unnoticed and unpaid. I often find myself thinking – what happened to the people who were casualties of the political decisions in the 1990s? Indeed, what happens to anyone when they are faced with a life-changing set of circumstances? How do we ensure that their skills are captured and further adapted to enable them to make good career choices? How do we help them see the changing world of work and more importantly how they fit into it? As a career professional, my job is to do exactly this.

I have provided guidance to a great deal of older people who have not been employed for years and years. From the person who stopped working in their 20’s to bring up a family, to a person who was made redundant and subsequently unemployed, to a person who went down one-way career road and needs to make a U-turn. Are these a forgotten generation? A forgotten group of people who are perhaps largely unfulfilled or plateauing in their aspirations? I would argue that we need to do more to make use of the wasted potential in people and integrate them to a growing career sector that can fulfil their goals.

People who start a career in health and social care later in life are often attracted it because of its potential to transform other people’s lives. After having good career guidance, they also quickly realise it is a career with longevity.

Such recruits account for up to 40% of entrants to social work postgraduate training programmes and come from a variety of backgrounds – according to course leaders, an undertaker and a singer and dancer are among those who have chosen to embark on a new career. In the past, many redundant miners retrained as adult support workers.” Guardian online accessed Nov 2018.

We are constantly bombarded with news of a struggling health and social care service where employers battle to fill vacancies, particularly in the child and family care sector. We know that there are 110,000 vacancies in adult social care at any one time in England and furthermore we know that a predicted 950,000 extra social care positions will be required to look after the ageing population by 2035 (Source: Skills for Care). What a time to embark on a career change!

I have interviewed employers in this sector who reiterate that they welcome applications from people who have had some ‘life experience’. Indeed, one said that the people on their staff who make the best care workers are those who have brought up their own family, sighting an ability to empathise having already lived and breathed strategies that work in a family environment. With all the added value that career changers bring, surely, we need to do more to encourage the generation of people who are looking for that motivational trigger to get on the career road.

How do we do this? The amount of potential in these people is colossal. The guidance trick is to get them to see that they have transferable skills that easily map across to a career in health and social career. The fact is, drill beneath the surface and a person with multiple skills emerges.

One of the most common situations I find my clients in is that of long-term unemployment, sometimes by choice, sometimes not. On the other hand, I also see lots of young people who have had a direct experience of life in the health and care sector. Their initial reaction to the thought of making the move into an occupation (regardless of what it is), is daunting and they often have great difficultly recognising and evidencing the skills and experience they have had outside of the workplace.

The reality is that these skills transcend anything you learn in a formal or workplace context. For me, there is no substitute for life experience, particularly for a career in health and social care! People are influenced and motivated by what they are exposed to, everyday and need to recognise how they can use these productively in the workplace and in wider society. The skillset must be brought to light with the support of the career professional or educator. This can be done in different ways.

One of the techniques I use is to get a client to tell their story, allow them to describe the kind of day to day activities they do. Using this I then explore what the client enjoys (or not) about these, what motivates them to do this and what impact does it have on the people around them. Getting the client to realise just how much of a difference they make can often inspire them to think they can transfer these to an actual occupation. I sometimes ask the client to visualise themselves in a health and social care setting and get them to describe what they are doing and how they are feeling about this. They often have a good understanding of what a job in health and social care involves but perhaps need a bit of reassurance to realise they can make the transfer.

The most common skills that emerge once the client is in the flow of their story is their ability to care for others and practical skills such as cooking, feeding, personal care organising and administering treatments and medication. Even things like communication skills and the ability to talk and listen to people is a significant and transferable one. As I have already said, living in a deprived area has meant that the need for health and social care services has risen. A lot of this work goes unrecognised or unpaid. I often see people who have spent years caring for others, whether that be bring up a child with disabilities or looking after elderly relatives with specific needs. Their role as an informal ‘carer’ has enabled them to gain a wealth of skills and qualities that are only paralleled by a professionally qualified health and social care worker. Hence, this is the reason why their experience is so critical and so needed.

We have a duty, as guidance and educational professionals to understand the motivational factors that drives people’s career decision making. One way to do this is to interact with people themselves, to enable them to talk about their life experience and subsequently encourage them to realise that they have a great deal to offer the health and social care sector.