How To Become a Support Worker: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 10 November 2022

Published 25 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Support workers help many people with different challenges or disabilities, assisting them with various daily tasks and their long-term goals. It can be a challenging and rewarding career. If you're hoping to pursue a career as a support worker, it's important to understand who they help and the necessary qualifications needed for a support worker position. In this article, we discuss what a support worker is, their primary responsibilities and how to become one using a helpful list of steps.

What is a support worker?

A support worker helps individuals who require assistance to live their daily life. They often assist individuals with mental health challenges and learning disabilities, and also the elderly, helping them develop strategies and systems to live freely and overcome their social or physical impairments. Throughout their workday, support workers determine how their patients want to be supported and the best ways to help them during their time together. If some patients have trouble communicating, the support workers might speak to their family members to clarify how they can perform their duties most effectively.

Related: How much does a support worker make?

What does a support worker do?

Support workers fulfil many important responsibilities throughout their workday, including:

  • Helping individuals with physical or learning disabilities, and mental health challenges or substance abuse

  • Working with their patients' professional care workers to establish and implement treatment plans

  • Assisting clients with specific physical needs or mobility help, including walking and travelling

  • Helping clients with everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, bathing and shopping

  • Travelling with patients to their medical appointments to physically and emotionally support them

  • Keeping track of patient medical records or files through information technology systems

  • Communicating with patients' families to ensure they understand all crucial information

  • Speaking with patients to see how they can best support them with their needs

  • Helping patients develop important goals so they can build strength and live independently

How to become a support worker

Here is a list of steps to help you become a support worker:

1. Obtain GCSEs

Though not every employer requires you to fulfil certain GCSE requirements, it can be beneficial to pursue them in certain subjects to help you develop occupational knowledge and boost your qualifications for the role. For example, it can be helpful for aspiring support workers to study important subjects, such as biology and other sciences, because they often have to assist individuals with varying disabilities or diseases. Earning a GCSE in science and having a better understanding of the disability or mental challenge a patient struggles with can help you perform your duties more effectively.

If you're an adult who wants to retake some GCSE exams, consider searching online for courses that can help you review the material and study for the examination. Taking some extra time to prepare can help you improve your knowledge for the test and possibly increase your overall score. It's also possible to find courses online that can help you continue to improve your knowledge and skills.

Related: GCSE Equivalent Qualifications

2. Pursue a diploma

Strong GCSEs can help you pursue a diploma and allow you to continue developing your knowledge and skills for the support worker position. Earning a diploma can help you understand which area of support work interests you the most and provide you with the credentials to pursue a variety of support worker jobs. One of the most popular diplomas to pursue is a diploma in care, such as the Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care or the Level 4 Diploma in Health and Social Care Management.

To pursue the level three diploma, you often need at least four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4. To pursue the level four diploma you need at least one A level, a level three diploma or other relevant experience. If you're unsure which diplomas to earn for a support worker role, consider searching for different open positions that interest you the most and refer to their educational requirements. If they share a common diploma or degree, it might be beneficial to pursue it.

3. Earn an NVQ

A national vocational qualification (NVQ) is a qualification that helps individuals develop occupational skills and knowledge to help them perform various tasks. Some employers might request one or two NVQs for the support worker position depending on their major responsibilities. The most common NVQ that an employer might request is the NVQ2 for entry-level positions or the NVQ3 for supervisor and management positions. Though some employers might provide on-the-job training for an NVQ, you can also pursue them yourself at colleges and other institutions in a classroom setting.

The timeframe to complete an NVQ can vary because individuals may complete the course at their own pace. However, the first three levels, on average, can each take a year to complete. If you have a certain number of GCSEs or completed A levels, you can also use those as an equivalent for a national vocational qualification. Some employers accept four to five GCSEs instead of a level two NVQ, and two A levels instead of a level three NVQ.

Read more: The Complete Guide to National Vocational Qualifications

4. Develop transferable skills

Transferable skills, sometimes known as soft skills, are skills that you can develop from jobs and positions outside of your chosen field or industry. For example, individuals can develop their communication skills by working in customer service positions. Before applying for a support worker role, it's beneficial to gain experience in other roles that can help you improve your soft skills, such as problem solving, analysis and communication. Developing these soft skills can help your CV become more noticeable to potential employers and better prepare you for the support worker career.

When trying to develop your transferable skills, consider searching for entry-level opportunities, such as a retail worker or waiter. If you're still in school, you can sometimes work these positions part time to develop your soft skills while you improve your occupational knowledge. If you're having trouble finding an entry-level opportunity, consider searching for volunteer positions that can allow you to boost your transferable skills while demonstrating your care for the community.

Read more: Transferable Skills: Definitions and Examples

5. Pursue an apprenticeship

An apprenticeship is a great way to develop impressive occupational skills and experience through on-the-job training. To qualify for a lead adult care worker advanced apprenticeship you need at least five GCSEs, including maths and English, at grades nine to four or equivalent. Once you receive an apprenticeship, it can take about 18 months to complete as you learn how to develop a care plan, follow important support worker standards and regulations and perform your duties independently. Some employers even offer to pay individuals during their time as an apprentice until their apprenticeship is complete.

6. Fulfil on-the-job training

After you earn a support worker position, some employers may have you complete additional on-the-job training. Though they often provide the training for individuals who don't have any experience or education as a support worker, some might still ask for you to fulfil it in order to clearly demonstrate your occupational expertise. Most often, employers have individuals pursue a care certificate, which focuses on the general standards and regulations for social care and health workers. The subjects that the certificate focuses on can include personal development, duty of care and fluids and nutrition.

Related: Interpersonal Communication: Definitions and Examples

Skills

Support workers use a variety of skills during their career to help them fulfil their major responsibilities, including:

  • Interpersonal skills: Interpersonal skills are very important for support workers because they can help them interact with patients and their families. It's also beneficial for support workers to practice active listening to help patients voice their struggles or concerns so they feel heard and validated.

  • Physical fitness: Physical fitness can be important for support workers because of how much they're on their feet during the day, helping patients with their daily tasks or errands. It's also possible that support workers might need to lift the entire weight of their client when helping them move or travel.

  • Organisational skills: Organisational skills help support workers keep track of their patients' medical appointments and their medication. Some patients may need to take medication at a specific time each day and it's important for the support worker to remember that and assist them.

  • Compassion and empathy: Compassion and empathy are two of the most important skills for support workers to have and demonstrate throughout their career. It's possible they may need to interact with patients or families that are struggling, and it's important to support them both physically and emotionally.

  • Healthcare knowledge: Some patients might have illnesses or disabilities that the support worker needs to be aware of when assisting them. It's possible that they might need to monitor their patients and report any troubling symptoms to doctors and physicians to maintain the patient's health and safety.

Related:

  • How To Write a Support Worker Cover Letter (With Examples)

  • What is a healthcare support worker? With duties and skills


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