Opportunities past and present – Ruth McGuire

As we enter the gradual easing of the lockdown and return to some kind of ‘normal’, employers are starting to think about their future workforce needs. Unfortunately, in some sectors like retail, aviation and hospitality, this has meant redundancies. In the health and social care however, demand for employees remains strong and will remain strong because in addition to Covid, health and care workers have to continue to respond to all the other ‘ordinary’ health and care needs of the population.

According to the NHS health careers website, ‘the increasing number of disabled younger adults living longer and the growing number of older people needing care, adult social care is growing and the sector needs at least another half a million jobs, and people to do them, by 2030.’ Skills for Care, the national agency that supports employers in the care sector, has a similar outlook. It reports that ‘adult social care is one of the few sectors where jobs are increasing, offering significant numbers of long-term career opportunities in the current job market. …by 2035 we'll need to fill around 580,000 more jobs.’ The picture for health is similar. As the population ages and people live longer with more complex health needs, demand for employees is also strong.

Job and career opportunities

As a result of the Covid crisis, in addition to the ‘new normal’ way of life, employees have also had to adjust to new ways of working. This includes having virtual meetings with managers and colleagues and in some instances providing remote support to service users and patients. Is it therefore important for employees to have a good level of ‘digital literacy’ because with or without Covid, technology will become an increasingly important element of everyday work. 

As for finding a job in the sector, vacancies are numerous. For example a quick national search on popular job search site www.indeed.co.uk  on 19 July, found 6137 jobs linked to ‘nurseries’ but 23,639 vacancies for health and social care! Vacancies included jobs such as mental health care assistant, pharmacy health care assistant, internal recruitment officer, community support worker (physical health), neighbourhood worker, well-being carer adviser and senior health care assistant. The health sector is similarly diverse when it comes to job options. The sector offers a wide range of roles for people who want to be involved in health work but not necessarily work in a clinical role treating patients. Consider this example for a moment: ‘‘Your first duties are to ensure the mortuary and post-mortem room are clean and tidy, and that equipment has been properly cleaned and stored ready for the pathologist to use. Next, you greet parents who've come to identify the body of their son. You're sympathetic and courteous, as you help the pathologist show them the corpse. After their positive identification, you update the mortuary records and help the relatives arrange for collection of the body so they can begin funeral proceedings.’ This is a description of the challenging but sensitive work of an anatomical pathology technologist. This is just one of the 350 different careers within the health sector featured at https://www.stepintothenhs.nhs.uk/careers/anatomical-pathology-technologist

Another area of opportunities within health often overlooked is the 14 ‘allied health professions.’ These professions provide healthcare in a variety of ways. For example, most of us have heard of paramedics and are familiar with the work they do in responding to medical emergencies. However, the allied health professions also include the work of less well-known professionals such as dieticians, music therapists, physiotherapists, podiatrists, art therapists and operating department practitioners. Although these roles require higher education level qualifications, there are opportunities for employees with further education qualifications to work in support roles. For example, you could work as a dietician assistant and work with dieticians to help patients choose food from menus, monitor their food intake and weigh them. Dietician’s assistants work in hospitals, out in the community, in schools and in people’s homes. As a podiatry support worker, you would work under the direction of a podiatrist and your duties could involve helping patients, ‘cleaning and dressing wounds, recording clinical notes and performing basic neurological and vascular tests.’ If you’re interested in science, another job option that could be of interest is work as a biomedical support worker, healthcare science assistant or healthcare science associate. Their work involves processing clinical specimens such as swabs, body fluids, and blood samples.  Many jobs within the sector offer an apprenticeship route which allows you to earn while you learn and progress upwards to senior roles. Apprenticeships available within health and social care include apprentice ambulance practitioner (level 4), healthcare science assistant (Intermediate - level 2) and maternity and paediatric support (advanced Level).

According to the national agency Skills for Health, ‘Whilst we’ll always need Doctors and Nurses in abundance, we too must recognise that we need thousands of different roles and skills to make the whole system work. People like Allied Health Professionals, Physiotherapists, Operating Department Practitioners (ODP’)s and many more make up nearly 40% of the workforce, without those people, the NHS simply couldn’t cope.”  

Given that the Covid pandemic is not going away anytime soon, there are still opportunities for workers who want to make a difference and to be out there, on the frontline supporting the fight against the virus. For example, the https://www.jobs.nhs.uk/  has a search option specifically for Covid related roles. Jobs advertised on this section of the website include healthcare support assistant, patient services assistant and support worker.  Another opportunity presented by the Covid crisis is to work on a temporary basis as ‘bank staff’ or in a role with a short-term contract. The temporary nature of these roles provides a good way of sampling different types of roles in the sector before making a firm or long-term commitment.

Voluntary work

At the start of the pandemic, there was a national ‘shout out’ for voluntary workers to help meet the needs of the sector. Around 750,000 people signed up to volunteer. Some people took on voluntary work in addition to their existing jobs whilst others who were ‘furloughed’, used and continue to use their ‘free’ time to volunteer. Although the national campaign for ‘NHS volunteer responders’ is no longer recruiting, there are still local opportunities in hospitals and other health and social care settings for volunteers. Visit the websites for your local hospitals or local care organisations to check on opportunities for volunteers. Alternatively, organisations such as your local Voluntary Action organisation can also help you find vacancies for volunteers.

Further research

To see what role might best match your interests and skills visit the following sites: 

https://www.aquestionofcare.org.uk/character-choice

https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/Careers-in-care/Job-roles/Job-roles-in-social-care.aspx
https://www.jobs.nhs.uk/xi/search_vacancy/ or 
https://www.skillsforhealth.org.uk/

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.