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Social Work and Counselling Services

Everyone encounters problems at some time in their lives. Workers in social work and counselling services help people of all ages to face a wide range of difficulties and challenges. They aim to give people the advice and support they need to cope with their situation and move forward in a positive way.

The sector can be divided loosely into the following occupational groups:

  • Counselling and therapy, helping people with a range of emotional problems.
  • Advice and information, advising and supporting people in such areas as employment, career choice, welfare rights or debt management.
  • Social and community care, providing practical care and supporting specific groups like families, older people or people with disabilities.
  • Charities and voluntary organisations, providing information, advice and support to individuals and raising awareness of particular issues.

Many people work daytime hours, Monday to Friday, but it may also be necessary to work in the evenings or at weekends. Some jobs involve shift work or a rota system to cover emergencies. Much of the work is office based. Other work may take place in hospitals, residential homes, hostels and day centres, schools, youth clubs and clients' homes. Many workers deal with clients face to face. Some provide advice and support by telephone.

Employers include the National Health Service (NHS), local authorities and national government organisations, as well as private companies of all sizes. Charities and voluntary organisations have both volunteers and paid staff.

Demand for workers in many career areas is increasing, particularly those involving the care of children and older people. There are opportunities throughout the UK.

To work in this sector it is essential to enjoy working with people and genuinely want to help them. Listening skills, observational skills and the ability to relate to people without being judgmental are very important. Management and organisational skills are also important for some roles.

Many jobs in this sector require previous relevant experience, either paid or voluntary. Some jobs do not need particular entry qualifications. For other jobs, to become fully qualified it may be necessary to gain a specific degree or postgraduate qualification, and undertake supervised practical experience. It is possible to become a social care worker through an Apprenticeship.

Many employers offer a combination of on-the-job training and in-house and external courses. Work-related qualifications, such as NVQs, are available in some career areas. Ongoing training is particularly important, as this sector is subject to constant change.

In general, promotion prospects are good, with many employers having a clearly defined career structure.