Older workers don’t always see the benefits to themselves in taking part in training. Workers take part in training for a variety of reasons such as in pursuit of a promotion, wanting take a new job or project or learn new ways to carry out their existing jobs in a more efficient way. Managers frequently assume that older workers are not interested in career development opportunities. Many older workers are happy in their jobs which they are doing and want to continue in their existing roles until they retire. However, many are seeking new opportunities, either in their current workplaces or elsewhere. The desire for a new direction in their careers could be driven by wanting a new challenge or because of a change in life circumstances. For example, a change in financial circumstances like paying off the mortgage lead some older workers to pursue a latent work mission.

Why might employers be less aware of older workers’ career ambitions than younger staff? One important reason is managers don’t always carry out appraisals with older employees so they may not know from their staff “where they want to be in five years.” Older staff may also be reluctant to discuss their desire for pursuing a new work mission for fear of appearing to their employers as being less committed to the jobs they are doing at present. However, workers can become more committed to work if they have the chance to also pursue a goal which they have had for a long time. Further, employers who support employees in seeking new challenges often find that they have more motivated workforces. This is why the UK government has supported a programme known as the Mid-Life Career Review which gives workers free access to career advice at or around the age of 50. The initiative, led by the Learning and Work Institute, National Career Services and trade unions aims to provide older workers with information and support to enable them to have meaningful conversations with their employers about their career plans.

What do care workers want in terms of careers?

Care workers we talked with said that they don’t just want a job, but also a career. People join the profession for a variety of reasons, but one of the most important reasons is they want to join a vocation which can help others. Many older people become care workers after having taken care of an elderly relative. They may want to continue caring for people who need help and have ideas on ways that care can be delivered. As a representative of the UK based Skills for Care noted,

“I have had a couple of [care workers] say to me that they came into the sector because they’d had relatives who had used care services. They’ve come into the sector, and again, they’ve said that whilst the care was adequate, it could’ve been better. They felt that they could do a better job.” (Skills for Care)

Employing staff who are motivated by a ‘higher purpose’ can be of real value for employers. They are usually willing to go the extra mile in ensuring that clients are well looked after, and are continually looking for ways to improve care both in terms of how they carry out their own jobs and in the system more widely.

However, it is important that care workers feel valued and have opportunities to develop in their chosen careers. Care workers have a variety of expectations when it comes to work and it is important to understand their career plans both in the short and longer terms. Many times, care workers find that the career which they aspire to is not available in their chosen vocation.

“I think the career path is pretty stunted. I think the career path is really limited. I can only speak for myself, but I’m 25 and at a stalemate part now. I come from a psychology degree and master’s background, so unless I go back to do a social work degree I’m pretty stunted, unless I changed sectors. That, for me, is quite sad because that’s not something that I want to do.” (UK care worker)

First, care workers want training to carry out tasks which are requiring high skills and knowledge. Care work has become increasingly complex requiring training in a range of disciplines including medicine, gerontology, palliative care, and management. Often, care workers take up new tasks without receiving the training they need to complete them. Care workers talked about taking on new tasks because the needs of their clients change- a change in the client’s health may lead for example to the need for support in organising their medicine or help using a new piece of medical equipment. They want to do their best to serve their clients but also want training so that they can take on their tasks effectively and safely.

Second, care workers want to see opportunities to progress within the social care sector. In Northern Ireland, care workers talked about the lack of opportunities to seek promotions into higher paid jobs with greater responsibilities. As care work becomes increasingly complex and skills driven, they felt that there should be more opportunities to secure jobs which require qualifications and are seen as professions. One care worker who gained a qualification in psychology finding it difficult to use her qualifications in the sector.

Finally, while many care workers want to see opportunities to progress within the social care sector, many others also see their careers progressing within the wider health and social care system and they see their talents being best mobilised in professions which serve their clients in a varieties of ways. For example, one care worker talked about having to advocate for an elderly client who needed social welfare benefits and helping the client apply for credits they were entitled to. This experience led her to want to transition from social care to social work so that she could focus on ensuring people like her client had the support they need from public services. Another talked about wanting to become a nurse so that she could use the skills she was developing in care work to create a pathway into health services. Care workers have a variety of ambitions. The key to good management is to ensure they have the training they need to use their skills and career pathways to benefit from them.