Care assistants and support workers both make life easier for people who need care. Some of the tasks they do overlap – for example, helping people with personal hygiene or household tasks and keeping an eye on health conditions.
But while care assistants usually work with people in care homes, support workers help people in their own homes, and in the community.
If you’re a care assistant and you’d like to become a support worker, this guide is for you.
What’s the difference? Care assistant vs support worker
The care assistant role
In a care home setting, care assistants work with other members of staff to create a space in which residents can thrive. They think about each resident’s basic and complex needs, and help with things like eating and drinking, giving medication and moving around.
Care assistants are trained in manual handling and use special pieces of equipment, like hoists, to help residents change position. They try to make sure that people can live in a dignified way, now matter how vulnerable they are.
The support worker role
Support workers share many tasks with care assistants, but the roles they play in people’s lives are slightly different. As a support worker, you might help your client live independently, cook, clean, find supported employment or stay mobile.
You’ll help the people you work with communicate, set meaningful goals and live fulfilling lives, both at home and in the community.
Did you know? Care assistants working in care homes usually wear uniforms (for example a Florence scrub top). Community support workers often wear casual clothes instead, to make the people they work with feel more comfortable – especially in public.
How to become a support worker
If you’re already a care assistant, you’re in a strong position to expand your skills and become a support worker. Here’s how to take your health and social care career to the next stage.
Step 1. Learn about support work
Before you do anything else, take some time to learn about what support work involves. We’ve mentioned a few differences between care work and support work above, but it can also be helpful to find a mentor to teach you support work skills in a practical setting.
If you know an experienced support worker, you could ask them about what support work is like, and what they do on shift.
Step 2. Gain support work experience
Care assistant and support worker roles overlap and share responsibilities. Look for opportunities to gain additional experience, like volunteering or taking on extra responsibilities at work.
If you work with support workers, ask your line manager if you can shadow one of them for the day. Don’t forget to take notes and ask questions as you go along.
Step 3. Study for a diploma
Some people move into support work roles without a diploma, and that’s a valid way to progress. But if you want to gain skills quickly, getting an official qualification can help.
Many people who plan to go into a support work role study for a Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care. As an NVQ student, you’ll split your time between classroom learning and on-the-job training. You can complete a Level 2 diploma in six to eight months, and a Level 3 diploma in nine to 12 months.
If you’re not ready to jump straight into an NVQ, you could begin with a Level 2 or 3 Certificate in Supporting Individuals with Learning Disabilities. These certificates share a number of units with the Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care, so they’re a good option if you’re new to higher education.
No matter which educational route you choose, you’ll learn a lot about providing people with safe, high-quality care.
Step 4. Apply for support worker jobs
You’ve gained hands-on experience and qualifications for support work: now it’s time to begin looking for jobs. You can find support worker positions in many places, including recruitment sites and Florence.
If you don't have a current CV or need to update it, don't worry: now’s the perfect time to create a new one. Prospects has a helpful CV-writing guide that provides some excellent tips to get you started. You can also use this template as inspiration for a support worker CV.
When looking for jobs, be sure to focus on roles that match your experience and qualifications. Tailor each application to the specific job you're applying for, and avoid using the same cover letter for different organisations. Your cover letter should show that you have the necessary experience, qualifications and practical skills for the job, that you've done your research about the company you're applying to, and that you're friendly, enthusiastic and committed to providing high-quality care.
If you don't hear back after applying, it's okay to follow up with a polite email after one or two weeks asking for feedback. Don't worry if you don't receive a response, as recruiters can be quite busy and may not have the time to respond to every applicant.
At some stage, you’ll probably be asked to interview for one of the roles you’ve applied for. Here are a few tips to help you prepare:
- Learn all about the company you’re interviewing with before the big day.
- Wear clean, smart clothes to make a good first impression.
- Think about all the reasons you’d be a good fit for the role.
- Tell the interviewer all about your support work experience.
- Ask questions to prove you’re really interested in working for the organisation.
Step 5. Settle into your new role
It's important to get to know your colleagues when starting a new job, so ask them how you can best support your team. Building relationships with your colleagues can help you feel comfortable and settle in quickly.
Learning all you can about your new role and the organisation is also key – but don't feel like you have to know everything right away. Ask questions and take notes to help you remember important information later on.
As the weeks roll by, encourage your colleagues and supervisors to give you detailed feedback on how you're doing, what you're doing well, and what you could do better.
Finally, make sure you're getting enough sleep, eating well and taking time to do activities you enjoy when you’re not on shift.
Aim high, and keep learning
If you love making people’s lives easier and enjoy helping them navigate different situations, support work might be your ideal career. You can learn the practical skills needed to become a support worker by finding a good mentor. Getting an NVQ can also help you take the next step in your career.
Keep up the great work – and best of luck as you take your career to the next level!
- Build your support worker skillset with Florence Academy, a great free course to start with is our First Aid course: click here to learn more.To find care assistant and support worker shifts near you, sign up with Florence.
You might also be interested in: