From unpaid carer to professional – Ruth McGuire

Mature woman helping elderly mother with paperwork

For most if not all of us, caring is part of our everyday life. Whether we recognise it or not, we all care for others in a variety of ways. This could include caring for children, 

parents, neighbours, partners, grandparents, siblings and other relatives or even for friends. According to a recent November 2020 report from Carers UK, unpaid carers across the UK have provided an ‘£135 billion of care since the start of the pandemic in March. That’s £530 million of care every day.’  

Many carers carry out their caring responsibilities out of a sense of duty, necessity or just in response to that most human of all emotions, compassion. Statistics and economic calculations clearly demonstrate the financial value of their work. This is why some people progress from being ‘unpaid carers’ or ‘informal’ carers to jobs and careers as paid carers. A change of circumstances might also mean that people no longer have unpaid caring responsibilities but want to take the skills and qualities they used in their unpaid role into a paid caring role.  In addition, despite redundancies becoming almost a daily occurrence now since the pandemic began, the care sector remains buoyant with lots of vacancies that need to be filled.  For example, a recent search on recruitment site for roles with ‘care’ in the title produced 9479 results. This included vacancies for live-in care assistants, senior carers, care workers and weekend home care assistants. 

Making the transition  

If you enjoy caring for others and derive satisfaction from caring and if you  are looking for a job either as a result of the current economic situation or for other reasons, then a paid job within the care sector could be a good match for your skills and qualities. There is no requirement for formal qualifications although having qualifications in Maths, English and ICT could be an asset. Employers within the sector are more interested in your values and behaviours than in specific qualifications and good employers offer training and qualifications as part of the job.  If you have already ‘worked’ as an unpaid carer, you probably already have the key values and behaviours required by employers within the care sector. 

These include the following: 

Dignity and respect  

This value is about treating people with respect in the way you communicate with them. It also includes respecting the individuality and choices of people you care for. In practice this means letting ‘service users’ or people you care for, make their own choices rather than imposing your choices and preferences on them. It also involves achieving the right balance between providing care for those aspects of someone’s life only when required and standing back and allowing people who are being cared for, the independence and autonomy to do everything else. 

Learning and reflection  

This value is about knowing yourself and accepting who you are with all your strengths and weaknesses. It’s also about reflecting with honesty on the things you do well and areas where you may need to improve. This value is also about recognising areas for development, knowing your boundaries and being honest about when you need help. 


Working together 

If you have been an unpaid carer for a long time and not had any other paid employment, you might have limited experience of working in a paid role with a huge team of other people. However, as a ‘carer’, if your relationship with the person you cared for worked well, you will have ‘worked’ in partnership with them and done things ‘with’ them and not ‘to’ them. In addition, you may also have had to liaise with social care teams, health professionals, local authority staff or even other relatives as part of your role. These activities are all part of ‘working together’ with others. In a paid care role, you have to work with others often as part of a team, with managers or staff from other sectors such as health or local authorities.  

Commitment to quality and support 

This value underpins other values and behaviours because it is essentially about your character. Are you for example a ‘people’s person’? If you have worked as an unpaid carer, you probably are. Key characteristics to providing good quality care and support are kindness and compassion.  Being able to empathise with the people you care for and put yourself in their position is also an important quality for carers to have.  In addition, a capacity to be flexible, patient and calm are important behaviours for carers because at times you will have to deal with challenging situations. 

Other values and behaviours often required by employers include a willingness to learn and a ‘passion for helping others’,  

Personal audit 

Before you apply for a paid role within the sector, reflect on the values and behaviours listed above as well as on your existing skills and experience. A useful exercise to carry out is to write out examples that demonstrate you have the values and behaviours required by employers. This will help you to identify a role that is the best match to your ‘inventory’ of skills and behaviours as well as help you prepare your application form or CV and prepare for interviews. You should do the same with skills that you believe are transferable and can be ‘transferred’ from your unpaid role to a paid role – write these down. These skills often include communication, organisation, time management and interpersonal skills. Other more generic skills that could be useful in a paid care role include being able to drive and having good ‘customer service’ skills. 

Carer roles 

Roles within the care sector are diverse. In addition to generic roles that involve providing personal care and support to individuals in their own home or in a residential care setting other roles include: 

Team leader/supervisor and leading teams of carers. If in addition to your unpaid caring role you have also held down another job that involves leading a team or supervising others, you could combine your skills and experience from both roles in a job as a team leader or supervisor of care workers.  

Activities worker. If you enjoy organising, then this role offers the opportunity to organise activities for people within the care sector. It could involve booking external activities or trips for service users or arranging for companies or individuals to provide activities within a care setting or actually leading activities yourself! 

Personal assistant. If you prefer working on a one-to-one basis, then this role might suit you best. It involves providing care and support on an individual basis to service users and could include helping people in their homes, supporting them to attend health appointments or even helping younger service users to get to college or university.  


Further information 

For information about the range of roles within the care sector visit  the ‘Think Careers’ section of or research roles at websites like or or do a search on google.  For help and advice on applying for jobs, interview preparation and so on, visit 



Ruth McGuire is an Education Inspector with nearly 15 years of inspection experience. She has taught in both further and higher education. She is also a well-established education and training consultant, writer and freelance journalist. She is a Governor of an outstanding sixth form college and also holds board roles within the NHS.