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Session 5: Exploring employment opportunities


Glasses on paper. Text on paper '...Skills .... a Job'
Figure 5.1

So far you have thought about the skills and qualities you have developed as a carer and you have thought about your ideas for the future. You may be at a stage where you’re thinking about taking up or returning to paid employment. Perhaps you have an idea already of what you’d like to do?

This session looks in detail at jobs and careers. Researching jobs within the employment areas that you are interested in will help you plan ahead and make realistic, informed decisions. It can help you find the right path and prevent you having to make too many detours on your journey.

Learning outcomes

After working through this session you will have:

  • an understanding of the various skills that could be developed within a caring role, and how some of these are transferable to other contexts

  • an appreciation of personal qualities developed through a caring role

  • an idea of the directions carers might like to go in

  • an idea of what it is possible for carers to achieve in their immediate future

  • an understanding of the learning options open to carers

  • an idea, or ideas, about possible learning paths

  • as a learner, how to go about finding out what you need to know

  • the ability to use information technology (IT) to carry out reflective activities in writing and communicating

  • the ability to use the internet to find information useful to you

  • the ability to explore and use new ways of expressing ideas.

Exploring employment areas and job profiles

Diagram highlighting attributes going into career
Figure 5.2

A list of career areas is given in Table 5.1. You can see that this list is very long – so how do you choose?

You might find it helpful in the first instance to look at the decisions taken by other carers in the following four different career areas:

  • social work
  • information technology (IT)
  • health and social care
  • nursing.

You can read and listen to their circumstances and find out more about the courses they have started, together with the other strategies they have used to gain related knowledge and experience and increase their employability.

You will then be invited to look in more detail at selected career areas outlined in Table 5.1 to explore job profiles and key skills in areas of interest to you.

Finding out about social work


Figure 5.3 Naomi (Library image)

You met Naomi briefly in Session 4. The experience of caring for her daughter has changed Naomi’s ambitions and she has decided she would like to develop a career in social work.

These are the steps Naomi has taken from making that decision to starting to gain experience and qualifications that will lead her towards achieving that goal.

  1. Naomi decided she wanted to get qualifications to give her daughter a better life. Her daughter inspired her to get started. She decided she wanted to do something in social care.
  2. As she needed qualifications and experience, Naomi looked into volunteering and studying.
  3. She has good support from her mum and her gran, and her brother suggested she try The Open University.
  4. Naomi heard an advert for a Children’s Hearing Panel member, applied and was accepted. This experience gave her an insight into social work, which she would like to pursue as a career.
  5. She started the health and social care course with the OU. She would prefer to be in college with more face-to-face learning but knows she’d be financially worse off doing that.
  6. Naomi has applied to do further voluntary work to support parents, giving her even more insight into the kind of work undertaken by social workers.

Naomi has started K101 An Introduction to Health & Social Care, which provides an overview of health and social care and an introduction to learning in higher education.

She is also studying KYJ113 Foundations for Social Work Practice – a key introductory level 1 Open University course that develops knowledge of the key roles of social work and introduces the social work standards and codes of practice relevant to each UK nation.

Routes into social services

Find out more about routes into the social services by using the links below.

You can browse the skills, interests and qualities you need to work in a range of related roles, including community development worker, learning mentor, social worker, nursery manager or youth and community worker.

For example, as a social worker you will need:

  • excellent communication and people skills
  • the ability to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds and gain their trust
  • a practical and flexible approach to work
  • tact, patience and empathy
  • an understanding of the needs of different client groups
  • a non-judgemental attitude
  • the ability to work in a team and also use your own initiative
  • the ability to assess situations and take appropriate action
  • resilience – for coping with difficult situations and challenging cases
  • good time management and organisational skills
  • computer literacy and administrative skills.

(Source: National Careers Service, 2012b)

Read a social worker’s job description.

The careers website Prospects describes different kinds of jobs in social care and provides details of the qualifications you might need to become a social or youth worker. While this website is aimed at graduates, many of the jobs it describes do not need degree-level qualifications.

The National Careers Services job profiles website can tell you about jobs in the social services sector.

The Scottish careers website Planitplus provides information about the experience of being a social worker in Scotland:

Finding out about IT

You met Dean earlier in the course.

He’s 28 and cares for his mum, brother and grandad. Dean has decided that he’d like to find ways to develop his career. He knows that the better employment he finds, the better placed he is to support his family and fulfil his caring responsibilities. Combining his paid work and his caring role has been challenging and he has felt unsupported by his employer and trade union, despite being a workplace union representative. In order to progress his career, Dean has decided to reduce his work to four shifts a week so he can combine his employment with his Open University studying and his caring roles. He faces continuing challenges with his own health, but is clear and focused on his long-term aim to work in IT.

Listen to Dean talking about his experience of studying.

Download this video clip.Video player: dean_snippet_4.mp4
Skip transcript


Eh I’m enjoying it the now. I’m enjoying it a lot actually. I thought it was going to be more um, school like, you know it’s no like that. I’m comfortable in the house you know em, I can concentrate. Doing all my caring for my mum, because I have to take her shopping. My brother, take him to the hospital. And my granddad I look after full time. So basically get all the housework done. And then at night is my time to do all my studying. And so I wouldn’t be able to do that in a brick college. It’s just not possible.
I started studying IT back in high school. Um and I was really good at it. So I took it up at em, at college. And em it was going really well. Eh passed it, I passed it actually really fast, really quick. I was finished a lot faster than everyone else. But em we were hitting some financial difficulties so I had to leave. I’ve always kept my hands in a bit of IT, thereabouts, taking computers apart, putting them back and fixing software that have got problems. Em but yeah it’s always been a hobby of mine that I would thought that I could turn into a career because it was something that I was quite passionate about.
Yeah, well I’ve started off on the ‘My Digital Life’, that’s part one, and I’m going to the, well I’m hoping to go on to the software development route and maybe after that hardware. But for now, software, that’s the main important one.
End transcript
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These are the steps Dean has taken towards his goal.

  1. His girlfriend helped him realise that he wanted to progress his career in order to better support himself and his family.
  2. He knew he could study, but realised his skills and knowledge were out of date.
  3. He realised he needed to find out how and where to pick up where he left off.
  4. He researched courses online as well as local college options, and distance learning opportunities through The Open University.
  5. Health problems meant delaying a return to study.
  6. He negotiated part-time working, and started studying two courses.
  7. Financial demands mean he has to increase his working hours, so he dropped one course.

Dean has experienced setbacks on the way to taking up his studies in IT, but he has persevered and is enjoying his studies.

He has chosen to study an introductory level 1 module with The Open University, TU100 My Digital Life, which is an introduction to the future of computing and the internet.

Routes into IT

Find out more about routes into IT by using the links below.

You can browse the skills, interests and qualities you need to work in different areas of IT, and find out about what you’d need to work as a support technician, an IT manager or a web developer.

For example, as an IT support technician, you will need:

  • a thorough knowledge of operating systems, networking, hardware and software
  • excellent problem-solving skills
  • the ability to explain problems and solutions clearly to non-technical users
  • the ability to prioritise, work under pressure and meet deadlines
  • a patient and methodical approach
  • the ability to work alone or as part of a team
  • an awareness of health and safety.

(Source: National Careers Service, 2012a)

Read an IT support technician’s job description.

The careers website Prospects describes different kinds of jobs in IT and provides details of the qualifications you might need to become an IT consultant or a games developer. While this website is aimed at graduates, many of the jobs it describes do not need degree-level qualifications.

The National Careers Services job profiles website can tell you about jobs in information technology and information management.

The Scottish careers website Planitplus provides information about opportunities in the IT sector in Scotland.

Finding out about health and social care


Figure 5.4 Janet (Library image)

Janet, 42, had not studied since her son was born. While caring for her son over the past 19 years she’s learned a lot through volunteering at his school and also at SenseScotland. Now that her son is becoming an adult she has a little more time to herself and is in a position to consider what paid work she’d like to take on in the future. She is clear that she’d like to work in services for people with disabilities and would like to do further study to get there. Knowing that distance learning is the only practical way forward for her, Janet is studying Health and Social Care with The Open University and fitting that in around her caring and volunteering responsibilities, which can be a tricky juggling act at times.

Janet knows she would like to be a manager of services for people with disabilities. These are the steps she has taken towards achieving her goal.

  1. Two years ago, when her son left school, things were changing and she realised what she would like to do.
  2. She knew she wanted to be a services manager for people with disabilities.
  3. She started volunteering one day a week with SenseScotland.
  4. Neither full- nor part-time study at college or university was an option for Janet. She knew that distance learning was the only way she would be able to study, but she couldn’t find the right course until she saw adverts for distance learning with The Open University.
  5. Janet has to carefully plan time to study, and that can be difficult. She allocates time on a Thursday, the only day when her son is cared for outside the home. She switches everything off except her mobile phone in case there’s a problem with her son.
  6. Janet is currently studying for a BA/BSc (Honours) Health and Social Care.

Like Naomi, Janet is studying K101 An Introduction to Health & Social Care.

Routes into health and social care

Find out more about routes into health and social care by using the links below.

You can browse the skills, interests and qualities you need to work in a range of health related roles, including a nurse, residential care worker or social worker.

For example, to work as health services manager you should have:

  • a flexible approach with the ability to cope with constant change
  • good problem-solving skills
  • financial management and number skills for budget control and cost analysis
  • strong written and spoken communication skills
  • the ability to give presentations and deal with the press
  • the ability to motivate others to meet deadlines
  • leadership skills
  • good negotiation skills
  • the ability to explain complex issues clearly to a wide range of audiences
  • a good understanding of issues surrounding confidentiality
  • the ability to deal with stress.

Read a health service manager’s job description.

You might be interested in working within the voluntary sector. Browsing the jobs advertised on the Goodmoves website will give you an idea of job descriptions, roles and requirements for working within the health and social care voluntary sector.

The careers website Prospects describes different kinds of jobs in social care and provides details of the qualifications you might need to become a learning disability nurse or a social worker. While this website is aimed mainly at graduates, there are other occupations in these work areas that do not need degree-level qualifications.

The National Careers Services job profiles website can tell you about employment within the social services sector.

The Scottish careers website Planitplus provides information about working as a health services manager.

How to revive an earlier career


Katrina, 49, is married and has five children, two of whom live at home. One of her sons has autism and attention deficit disorder. As her sons got older Katrina found she had more time for herself and knew she wanted to do something but wasn’t sure what. She took up an Open University access course, which she passed. This gave her the confidence to take a Return to Nursing Practice course at university, something she’d been thinking about for ten years but didn’t think she’d ever manage to do. Two years on, she is working as a support worker in her local mental health unit. Once her nursing registration comes through she plans to apply for a job as a staff nurse.

Listen to Katrina talking about her return to nursing.

Download this video clip.Video player: katrina_snippet_3.mp4
Skip transcript


Well, when I first heard about The Open University course I was just approaching, well I was 48, so I knew my 50th birthday was coming up. My son Ruaridh who’s autistic and has quite a lot of needs was 18 and was beginning to become a little bit less dependent on me. And I just felt that I had a little time on my hands. I was looking around for something to do or somewhere to go. I didn’t really have any ideas at all and at a meeting at the carers centre one evening they told us about Open University courses that they were running and they were free to carers. And just on impulse, I just put my name down that day. I didn’t even think about it. And that was me signed up and that was it. The rest is history.
It’s two years on from that day and it’s a different, I’m living a different life. It’s almost unbelievable. I look back to two years ago and I can’t believe I am where I am today. I never thought I’d see this day again.
Well I did The Open University course and passed. That gave me the courage to apply to do a return to practice course for nursing. Something that I had talked about for the last ten years but had never actually done anything about but having done the Open University course, it just gave me the courage to apply for that. I did that last year and I have passed and as I said earlier I’m now in the position that very shortly when my registration comes through I will be able to work as a staff nurse again. I just never thought that day would ever come.
Em in some ways I’m so proud I could cry actually! I just, one of the, when I, when my son was 18 and I was looking into going back to work for the first time, one of the jobs that I took was I worked as a cleaner in a local beauty salon. No reflection on that job at all because I’m a neat and tidy person and I enjoy cleaning, but I took that job because I honestly thought I wasn’t capable of doing anything else and I thought that was me. And now two years later I’m going to be working as a staff nurse again. And I’m just so proud of myself I could burst!
Yes I had really enjoyed that career before, but I felt that I was so used to being on demand, so used to looking after everyone else, that in my head I thought I can’t work shifts. I can’t start work at half past seven. I can’t work till half past nine at night, but actually they weren’t for me, they were not real barriers anymore. They were barriers at one point, but now, there’s no reason why I can’t do these things, and I’ve just had to learn that and see that for myself.
I wasn’t really totally immersed in my caring. I’m not that nice! [Laughs]. But, em, that was my job. So I didn’t really feel that, I missed my job as a nurse - I always liked that, but I felt quite fulfilled doing my caring role and I was really busy. I didn’t really have time to spend a lot of time thinking about myself. I didn’t really have time to spend a lot of time speculating on where I could be or what I could be doing. I just got up every morning and hoped to make it through the day. That was my main goal. Get to bedtime without crying – that was a good day! [Laughs].
I read all the time and I look back and I can’t believe that I went almost five years without reading , but I did! I was so tired, it’s you can’t understand it unless you’ve been in that position, but you sort of drift through life on autopilot and you’re tired all the time. You feel ill all the time. You get the cold and it takes you three weeks to get over it because you actually can’t sit down and have a lemsip at any point. You just have to keep going. And when bedtime comes, you’re usually so tired that, and I don’t know, concentration was maybe a problem for me. I just stopped reading. But now I can read again now and I’m happy.
Em well I’m kind of busy again because I’ve taken, this job that I’ve taken on is full time, so I’m working full time at the moment and my son still requires caring for at home, and I do have other things that I do. I am a busy person. I think that on reflection, I think that full time is too much. But I have to do it, I’m doing it right now but I wouldn’t like to work full time for a great length of time. Because you do need time to rest and relax and just be yourself. I’m not getting much of that time at the moment.
I think that’s very important, but very difficult because society puts such a pressure on you to achieve and to have a career, that it’s very difficult sometimes to just recognise that perhaps you are too busy to do that. So it’s difficult question to answer, but for me, I just, when I was looking after my son, when he was young and when he was at home and I had all the other kids to look after as well, I just don’t think I was that deep. I just didn’t have time to think about much else so that’s what I did. And then as things got easier as the children got older, I started to have a bit more time and it was just a sort of happy coincidence that all things came together at the right time for me. I happened to come to the carers meeting when I had been happening to think about doing something else. So I think your question is appropriate and its right, it is important to recognise these things. I don’t know how you do that though. [Laughs].
I think that my experiences looking after my son have changed me into a different person to the person that I was before. I think that having children changes you – changes everybody, but having a child that has a lot, a high dependency changes you a lot. So the things that, I’m a much more tolerant person than I used to be. I have much more understanding, er patience, staying calm, I’m the queen of not rising to – whatever. [Laughs] I’ve found that my experiences having to deal with social work department have taught me a lot, [Laughs], about em, in my work I have learned to realise that things don’t happen when you want them to happen. And there’s no point in phoning people constantly and complaining about this, that and the next thing, because people work in their own time and you just have to learn to be patient. And you can, you can find a nice way of maybe keeping your, keeping your needs alive in someone else’s mind, but it gets you nowhere to get angry and frustrated and upset about the way that government departments treat you. That gets you nowhere. [Laughs]
I think that you learn to let things go, and you have to learn which battles are worth fighting and you have to fight them with all your might, but you have to let a lot of things just go. Because you’re not going to get anywhere with them.
I would say that for myself, probably in the last five or six years I tried a couple of things, and the timing wasn’t right and so they didn’t work. But the timing obviously was right when I tried this because it did work and sometimes I think you have to push the door open and just see where it goes. And if it doesn’t work for you and it’s not the right time, don’t stress about it. You can try again. You don’t have to get it all right the first time. And as far as the reflection course goes with The Open University, I really think what is there to lose? Give it a go. If you don’t like it, if it doesn’t work for you, oh well, fair enough. But you never know, this might be your time.
End transcript
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These are the steps Katrina took to get back to her nursing career.

  1. While caring for her son during his childhood it just wasn’t possible to study or think about returning to work full time.
  2. She did manage a few different jobs while caring – fostering other children and working as a childminder.
  3. As her son grew up it was possible for her to think about returning to work, but she didn’t know where to start. There didn’t seem to be too many jobs around either.
  4. Her local Carers Centre told her she could study for free with The Open University because she was a carer, so she decided to take the plunge.
  5. Katrina started studying alone with a group of other carers as part of a collaborative initiative between the centre and The Open University.
  6. Succeeding with this course then gave her the confidence and impetus to plan her next steps and think about returning to work.
  7. With the support of the carers centre Katrina looked into how she could return to nursing, having the confidence to do a Return to Nursing Practice course.
  8. She has since started working in a mental health unit and is looking forward to becoming a staff nurse again soon.

Katrina completed Y177 Understanding Society (a former OU access module that has been replaced by the Y032 People, Work and Society access course) and a reflection course. These gave her the confidence to do a Return to Nursing Practice course and she’s now planning to return to work as a staff nurse.

Routes into healthcare

Find out more about routes into healthcare by using the links below.

You can browse the skills, abilities and qualities you need to work in different areas of healthcare and nursing, including what you would need to work as an adult nurse, a healthcare assistant or a practice nurse.

For example, as a healthcare assistant you would need to have:

  • a friendly and caring personality
  • the ability to relate to people from a wide variety of backgrounds
  • tact and sensitivity
  • an understanding and respectful approach to patients from all backgrounds
  • the ability to work on your own initiative and as part of a team
  • an understanding of the importance of confidentiality
  • patience and a sense of humour.

Read an adult nurse’s job description.

The careers website Prospects describes different kinds of jobs in healthcare and provides details of the qualifications you might need to become a mental health nurse. While this website is aimed at graduates, many of the jobs it describes do not need degree-level qualifications.

The National Careers Services job profiles website can tell you about jobs in medicine and nursing.

The Scottish careers website Planitplus provides information about working in nursing and other healthcare roles.

Now it’s time to think about yourself.

Activity 5.1

Social media buttons on a keyboard
Figure 5.5

If your main aim in completing this course is to help you decide on a future career or a career change, you may want to spend more time on this activity to fully explore your ideas. This will help ensure that you make a realistic, well-informed decision.

IT skills can help you research or explore your ideas and are useful skills in their own right.

Activity 5.1 Using the computer to explore ideas

Timing: We suggest spending around 30 minutes on this activity.

Go to Activity 5.1 in your Reflection Log. Once you have completed the activity, make sure you save the document again.

  • Choose at least one of the careers or subject areas listed in Table 5.1 that you are interested in, or are unfamiliar with. The career areas given here will link you to job profile information in these areas. [Press the ‘Ctrl’ key on your keyboard and left-click with the mouse.]
  • Explore the information given for two job profiles, so that you are able to respond to the following questions:

    1. What are the entry requirements for your chosen job profile?
    2. Name two skills that are required for your chosen job profile.

Make a note of any point that particularly interests or surprises you.

You can complete this activity on your own or in pairs if you are in a group. Remember to save your answers because you will return to these in future activities.

You can use your notebook to record what you’ve found out or use this table  but remember to save the document.

How did you get on? Were you able to answer the questions? Did any of the information surprise you?

If you completed this activity in pairs or a group environment, you may want to discuss your answers. The information that you have just researched will help you with the next activity in this session.


Planning a career takes time!

If you are thinking of a new career, or perhaps wondering where further study and qualifications might lead you, you may want to do some further research of other resources before identifying your goals for the future. Further information and advice is available from the National Careers Service, Skills Development Scotland or The Open University’s Careers Advisory Service.

Session 6: Deciding my goals and planning for the future


National Careers Service (2012a) Job profiles: everything you need to know about jobs… [Online]. Available at advice/ planning/ jobfamily/ Pages/ default.aspx (Accessed 24 June 2014).

National Careers Service (2012b) Job profiles: social worker [Online]. Available at advice/ planning/ jobprofiles/ Pages/ socialworker.aspx (Accessed 24 June 2014).

Session 6: Deciding my goals and planning for the future


This course was written by Lindsay Hewitt, Sarah Burton and Julie Robson.

Except for third party materials and otherwise stated (see terms and conditions), this content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence.   

The material acknowledged below is Proprietary and used under licence (not subject to Creative Commons Licence). Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this unit:


Figure 5.1: ©

Figure 5.2: © Muharrem oner/

Figure 5.3: © The Open University/Library image (model image only)

Figure 5.4: © The Open University/Library image (model image only)

Figure 5.5: © Logorilla/


Table 5.1: Extract from

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