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The differences between support workers and care assistants


Support worker or care assistant – how can you tell which is the right role for you?

If you work in the healthcare industry, you will already have a natural aptitude for offering care and support to others. You can’t really have one without the other. But how do you know whether you want to focus more on the ‘healthcare’ side, being a care assistant, or the ‘support’ side, in the role of a support worker? 

The differences between the role of a support worker and a carer are subtle. Duties will often overlap, but as a general rule of thumb, support workers support people to manage their day-to-day living while care workers are a bit more hands-on.


What do we mean by support and care?

The subtle difference between support and care depends on the level of assistance someone may require and their health condition. As previously mentioned, the two are interlinked and often overlap. However, as a general rule of thumb, ‘care’ means doing things for someone while ‘support’ means doing things with someone. 


What is the role of a care worker?

As a care worker, you will be actively looking after someone to ensure their wellbeing and daily needs are being met. The role will vary depending on the client and their specific needs. You may be required to do things that your client can’t do for themselves, such as washing and dressing, making meals, administering medication and cleaning bedrooms and living areas. 

The role of a care worker can be in the home or in a residential care home. Visiting people in their own homes (known as domiciliary care) or providing live-in care often means more one to one time. Some care workers may have medical training in how to administer medication or take vital observations as well as helping with personal care such as daily hygiene.

If you’re considering a career as a healthcare assistant, our blog on how to become a healthcare assistant is a great place to learn more about the hiring process and the career prospects.


What is the role of a support worker?

The role of a support worker is enabling someone to manage their life independently and empowering them to have more control over their lives. 

You are there as a ‘professional friend’, giving them the right tools, skills and opportunities they need to live a more fulfilling life. 

The day to day role will change depending on who it is you are supporting. For example, you may choose to be a child support worker, supporting children in their development into adulthood, or you may work with adults with learning disabilities, giving them the skills and confidence to live a rewarding and full life. 

General everyday duties will include supporting clients with activities such as going to college, shopping or attending medical appointments. You might offer support with household administration, such as paying bills and budgeting and even light housework duties. But it is also the emotional support that you offer that is just as important. Being a support worker can be a lifeline in terms of offering companionship and someone who is willing to talk and listen.

You can learn more about the role of a support worker here in our guide.


What skills do you need to be a care assistant or support worker?

Working in care, whatever the role, can be a hugely rewarding job. It goes without saying that someone who works in healthcare should want to help and assist others. This means enabling people to live fulfilling and rewarding lives with dignity and respect.

Here are 9 traits that are perfect for a career in care:

  • Being caring and having a kind nature
  • Being a good and patient communicator
  • Being an active listener
  • The ability to manage your time effectively
  • Working well as part of a team
  • Being able to use initiative in challenging circumstances
  • Ability to stay calm in stressful situations
  • Having a friendly and open temperament
  • Remaining patient and having a good sense of humour


What qualifications do you need to be a care assistant or support worker?

There are no formal qualifications required for either role. However, you will need an enhanced background check and good numeracy and literacy skills are usually expected. Most companies will look for someone who has the required soft skills, personality and values that suit the job specification. It is also useful to have some experience in the healthcare industry, whether that’s a voluntary role or another job that had a caring aspect to it. 

If you prefer to go down the qualifications route, there are BTECs, NVQs, T-Levels and Diplomas you can do in health and social care which will stand you in good stead. 

If you think you’ve got what it takes to be a support worker or care assistant, then the best course of action is to start looking for suitable roles. Talk to people in the industry, look on healthcare providers’ websites or talk to a specialist healthcare recruitment agency that specialises in healthcare roles. 

At Safehands, we specialise in finding health and social care jobs for people in the healthcare industry. For free advice about your career, call our team on 01242 505415.

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