Section 4: The needs of older workers vs. social care work

Section 4: The needs of older workers vs. social care work

The focus of a social worker is the welfare of people, families and communities. Social workers act as advocates and they help clients learn new skills to help them live effectively and meaningfully.

They counsel others who need help, and connect them with resources within their communities. A social worker protects the vulnerable and ensures that their best interests are upheld.

Really, the desire, I just felt a kind of vocation… I wanted to do something that was a bit more hands on and more about supporting individuals with their day-to-day living, and to try to ensure that they had the best quality of life possible. (UK Care Worker)

As the population ages we will need more social workers with expertise in geriatrics, whose focus is in working with adults aged 65 and above.

The priority of a geriatric social worker is to maintain as well as enhance the quality of life for older adults. This often includes helping with physical challenges that accompany ageing, mental health and wellness, and cultural barriers that older individuals may face in society [1].

Many social care workers are interested in transitioning from social care to social work, in order to represent and advocate for the people they care for.

“The first thing I had to learn, to undo everything I learnt in social work to become a manager because it’s an entirely different job. You’re fighting for the client and then you realise, “Oh, right, but I haven’t actually got the resources to do what I need to do.” (UK Social Care Worker)

Why recruit older people for social care roles?

There are at least two key reasons for recruiting older people into social care:

  • The social care sector needs workers. The UK government projects that the number of people in social care work will need to increase 50% over the size it is today in order to meet rising demands. Employers will need to recruit a broader range of ages, including older workers, many of whom will be either returning from a career break or seeking a new direction in work.
  • Older workers score highly in leadership, detail-oriented tasks, organisation, listening, writing skills and problem solving. But perhaps the greatest asset older workers bring is experience — their workplace wisdom. They have learned how to get along with people, solve problems without drama and call for help when necessary. Experience also helps older workers compensate for the physical and mental changes that accompany ageing. [2]
Question: How can we attract even more older people into the social care sector?
Case study: Northern Ireland
Many of the care workers we spoke with talked about the importance of feeling valued by other health and social care professionals, in terms of the role they play looking after the well-being of clients.
Social care workers can be the ‘front-line’ in delivery of care. Having day to day contact with their clients, they can be the first to spot support that is needed by those they are caring for or when their circumstances change. They can therefore be key to delivering faster and more responsive service.
“Sometimes we need to just be able to up skill some of our domiciliary care workers to be that first line of defence that, when they go in, they make those casual observations, but not only make them, but note them. So, maybe up skilling in that regard, that they maybe just don’t see the basic grade domiciliary care worker, but maybe they can be slightly more than that, be an early warning system.” (Belfast HSC)

To tap into care workers’ skills, other health and social care professionals with whom they work need to recognise and respect their experience and knowledge.

Question: Does this happen in your setting? If not, why not – and what can be done to change this?
Case study: Malaysia
Unlike in the UK, the older people who are employed in Malaysia are more likely to be professionals, rather than from the lower or medium classes.

malaysia flag

Many of these people still need to generate income even after retirement in order to survive for the increasing number of years they will live for.

Some of those we spoke with told us that creating job opportunities for older people have been challenging in Malaysia, especially when employment is also an issue among the newly graduated youths and adults.

In 2017, women in Malaysia who are celebrating their 65th birthdays are expected to live for another 17.1 years, compared to 15 years for men of the same age.
“With the present economic situation, job opportunities should also be given to young people. They will work as a guardian to the elderly. This is a kind of job that may be able to use the skills and work of other elderly people who are still healthy … but the suitability of the work or job matching process is very important. ” (Malaysian Care Worker)
Question: What extra value can older care workers bring that is distinct from the value offered by younger workers? And how can care work settings make the most of their abilities?

Older care workers can play an important role in delivering a better care for the elderly. However, it requires rethinking their role and perhaps some retraining in order to tap into their skills and experience. In the next section, we will discuss ways in which care work can be redesigned to meet the needs of a 21st century care service.

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[1] Lucette, A. (2014). Social Workers’ Role in Senior Care. SeniorsZen, Canadian Senior Living Experts. Available at
[2] Reade, N (2015). The Surprising Truth About Older Workers. AARP The Magazine. Available at