The needs of the 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 individuals in need of assistance 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 a bit 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 there will be an ongoing need for social workers with expertise in geriatrics whose focus is in working with adults aged sixty-five 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 assisting 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 whom they are caring 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)

There are a few rationales for recruiting older persons in social care force. The first and most important reason is that the social care sector needs workers. The UK government agency responsible for labour force projections, for example, expects 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. This means that employers will need to recruit more from across the life course including older workers, many of whom will be either returning from a career break or seeking a new direction in work.

Older workers also score high 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 too, helps older workers compensate for the physical and mental changes that accompany ageing. [2]

A common view of care workers with whom we spoke was the importance of feeling valued by other health and social care professionals in 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 which 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. However, 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.

“Sometimes we need to just be able to upskill 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 upskilling 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)

Unlike in the UK, the involvement of older persons in Malaysia or elderly into the employment sectors is very much limited among the professional group rather than among the low and medium class older persons. However, for many of them income generation is still a necessity after retirement in order to survive with the increasing number of years will be spent after retirement, due to longevity. As for 2017, the elderly women in Malaysia who are celebrating their 65th birthdays are expected to live for another 17.1 years more as compared to 15 years more among the elderly men.

One of the participants among the stakeholder groups stated that, the needs to create job opportunities among the older persons have been challenging in Malaysia, especially when employment is also an issue among the newly graduated youths and adults. In connection to this, the conduction of this study raised the question if social care services are indeed a suitable employment opportunity particularly for the medium and low socio-economic class older persons who are still fit to work. Nevertheless, in view of the various challenges and work-related risks associated with the provision of social care for older persons, a proper planning and recruitment screening (job matching process) are required to ensure the job and tasks are safe to be conducted by older persons.

“Dengan keadaan ekonomi sekarang, focus peluang pekerjaan harus juga diberikan kepada golongan muda.. Jadinya bekerja sebagai penjaga kepada warga emas ini merupakan satu jenis pekerjaan yang mungkin boleh menggunapakai kemahiran dan tenaga kerja warga tua lain yang masih sihat…akan tetapi kesesuaian kerja tersebut atau job matching proses sangat penting.”

“With the present economic situation, job opportunities should also be given to young people. It 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)

Care workers can therefore 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.

[1] Lucette, A. (2014). Social Workers’ Role in Senior Care. SeniorsZen, Canadian Senior Living Experts. Available at

[2] Reade, N (2015). The Suprising Truth About Older Workers. AARP The Magazine. Available at