Support worker

Support worker Job description

A support worker role is largely variable, and there are roles available in all sectors of health and social care. One key responsibility of any support worker however, is to promote and enable independence, and where possible, achieve and sustain independent living.

Support workers primarily provide support to individuals, groups or families, whether it be emotional, social or practical support, and aim to provide physical and mental wellbeing. They need to be able to establish a professional working relationship by building rapport and gaining trust, but also adhere to strict professional boundaries, and understand legislation that protects both the worker and the client.

Support workers must have an understanding of how to work with vulnerable people, and demonstrate a willingness to provide help and advice. Depending upon the setting of the role, support workers may have to deal with challenging behaviours and volatile situations, emotional distress, or physical demands, and need to be aware of stress that this may induce, and be able to ask for support should this feel necessary.

Support workers may work in areas such as supported living, elderly care, learning disabilities, drug and alcohol misuse, or mental health, with mental health workers sometimes referred to as support, time, recovery workers (STR). Requirements may include assisting with personal care, accessing the community, daily living tasks, or intense emotional support, and being able to work within a multi-disciplinary team. In order to do this, support workers should possess excellent communication skills, a caring nature, and a strong and resilient character.

Skills needed

Problem solving
Ability to build relationships and gain trust
Active listening skills
Understanding legislation
Ability to prioritise, and meet the needs of several clients (where required)
Non-judgemental attitude
Respect and understanding of client confidentiality
Being able to monitor and assess the wellbeing of clients, and identify risk factors
Ability to offer practical and emotional support


It is not necessary to have any qualifications depending upon the place of work, but it is becoming more commonplace for employers to stipulate an NVQ Level 2, 3 or 4 in Health and Social Care. When working with children specifically, an NVQ in Children’s Care, Learning and Development may be requested, or a CACHE Certificate or Diploma in Child Care and Education. These qualifications can take around a year to complete, but as they are work and evidence based, there is the need to be working whether paid or voluntary. However, some employers will employ people without these if they show willingness to complete a qualification alongside their role.

More recently, some employers recognise the Care Certificate in place of an NVQ. These qualifications do not generally require any pre-requisites and are applied for through the employers direct. However, not all employers do offer this.

Career progression

Professional development courses and qualifications may be necessary to progress, especially into managerial positions. It is also likely that as a support worker, the level of education and qualification can influence the rates of pay.

As a support worker, there are several routes into which to progress. As more experience is gained, preferably with a higher level NVQ in health and social care or similar, the role of Senior Support Worker or Shift can be attained. Further to this, it is possible to look towards positions of management, which can involve management and supervision in-house-trainings, or through the attainment of qualifications through the Qualification Credit Framework (QCF). As a support worker, the nature of the workplace is highly variable, but to work in one specific area such as Learning Disabilities, further courses can be taken to enhance knowledge and skills about particular disabilities and to how to work within Best Practice.

It may also be a consideration to train as a social worker, although this requires degree level qualifications and registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Pros and cons


Sense of achievement
Varied work
Qualifications not always needed
Career progression


Duration of shifts can be long
Flexibility required to work days, evenings, weekends and nights
Mentally and physically challenging
Salaries can be low



The average salary for a support worker is £17,000 (totaljobs) but can be lower depending upon the type of support and the individual employer. The lowest average is for Non-for-profit companies or charities which is £16,811, rising to the highest average of £20,536 in the public sector.

Further information

Different roles of support workers –
Qualification Credit Framework –
Care Certificate –
Support worker resources –