Aug 16

The living proof that you can forge a career in social care

Posted: 12 August 2016

Sharon Allen CEO Skills for Care"We need to do some myth busting about working in social care" - Sharon Allen, CEO, Skills for Care

There are lots of myths that abound around social care, a perennial one that is regularly expounded is that there is no career structure in our sector and so therefore it is not an attractive sector to join.

No career structure eh – really?  I'm living proof that is not true.

I’ve written about my journey previously, but here's a brief recap. I started work in a bank for want of knowing what I wanted to do, then spent a couple of years in clerical roles with Derbyshire Area Health Authority. My introduction to social care came when I started out as a social work assistant in 1981, with no more than a clutch of average grade O levels. I then qualified as a social worker and have held various roles in voluntary sector organisations both locally and nationally, gaining a housing qualification, honours degree and MBA along the way. My last role before joining Skills for Care was as the Chief Executive Officer of a large voluntary sector social care and supported housing provider.

As a sector, and with our wider group of partners and supporters, we must constantly challenge and change this tired old narrative that you can't develop a rewarding career in social care, because if I can do it then anyone can.

That belief was reinforced when I recently joined my colleagues from Scotland and Wales for our national Sector Skills Council executives meeting. What a stimulating and powerful conversation we had – three women with different backgrounds and career pathways who are all now leading organisations that have a pivotal impact on leadership and workforce in our sector.

Anna Fowlie, who is Chief Executive Officer at the Scottish Social Services Council (SSCC) told me her first job was as an usherette at Eden Court Theatre. She then went to Edinburgh University to study History of Art, but when she graduated there were no jobs 'for people like me with no family or private school network in that world'.

So Anna got a job with the regional council as a trainee in admin and personnel, then completed her professional qualification in Human Resources (HR), which led her to various HR and employee relations jobs in local government, including for social work. She then moved to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) employers’ function (the equivalent of the Local Government Association in England), providing HR advice to councils and working across national pay and conditions negotiations.

Following a restructure, Anna became team leader for the children and young people's policy team, which she loved. This was followed by a secondment to Scottish government as a 'Tsar for children in care', where Anna spent three years working with local authorities, especially elected members, to develop their corporate parenting role. Then, in 2009, Anna was appointed CEO at SSSC, which she leads with great distinction.

What about Sue Evans? She has very recently taken over the helm from the highly talented and knowledgeable Rhian Huws Williams at the Care Council for Wales after being Chief Officer for Social Care and Housing at Torfaen County Borough Council. Her career pathway is very similar to mine and Anna's, beginning with several finance and administrative roles in the retail and manufacturing industries, with a handful of O levels and secretarial skills. Sue spent a year travelling and working across UK and Europe before settling down to family life, becoming a full time mother and carer until she found herself widowed in her later 20's. Her experience as a carer prompted her to consider a career in the NHS, so she restarted her education whilst volunteering and working part time in a wide range of roles, before joining Public Health Medicine in 1992 as PA to the consultant in community medicine. This role provided her first insight into the NHS interface with local government and prompted her interest in population needs, prevention, community development, social care and housing. 

Sue was successful in gaining a place on the NHS Widening Horizons scheme for potential leaders and her first management role was within the planning and commissioning arena. A range of operational service delivery roles enabled Sue to combine her planning and commissioning skills to deliver significant service improvements during her NHS career. In 2006, she was one of the first people to take the title Joint Head of Integrated Adult Services in Wales, then she became Joint Director for Health, Social Care and Housing in 2010. This role incorporated the statutory director role, which she retained as chief officer in Torfaen until her move to become CEO of the Care Council for Wales. Sue says about her career path, "It has been an enjoyable and eventful journey, to date, and each role has provided new insights and experiences that have helped hone skills that are transferable across sectors.” 

Sue is keen to support her teams to develop a wide range of skills and experiences, and she firmly believes that everyone should be encouraged to reach their full potential through continuous learning and development.

So there you have it, three examples of building careers from the bottom up in just one meeting.

Everywhere I go I hear of other examples of people who used the structures that are already in place within most organisations to boost their skills and knowledge as they built their careers. One of my ex colleagues, who is an area manager with the provider organisation I used to lead, started out as a volunteer. A registered manager I met recently told me she began her social care career as a support worker. And what about the operations director in another organisation who started out as a care assistant? I could go on and on, because there are so many great examples to share. 

We need to do some myth busting about working in social care and here’s my starter for 10 – no career pathway in social care? Catch on with yourself!

I would love to hear examples of how you have built your careers in social care, so please do share them with me through our PR manager Paul Clarke by emailing paul.clarke@skillsforcare.org.uk, where they will likely be used in a future blog post.