Career progression options in Health and Social Care

Originally published on CACHE Alumni – Get your first year of membership for free and enjoy new, relevant content every week.

There is not a better time to start out on a Health and Social Care career or progress from an existing position within the sector. This article examines the pathways through the UK’s largest sector, including apprenticeships, an increasingly popular option.

The NHS employs around 1.4 million people and Social Care employs 1.6 million people. There are hundreds of different jobs across the sector. Everybody who works in Health and Social Care, whether as a Nurse, a Social Worker, Cleaner, IT Technician, Chef, Administrator, Manager or Support Worker shares the same aim; to help and support other people at times of need. We all need some help or support at one time, and as there are more of us, living longer, the workforce must grow to meet future health and social needs. This growth offers prospective and existing staff greater opportunities.

Have you got what it takes to be part of this exciting future? Take a moment to give some thought about how you meet the following common qualities and skills;

  • excellent communication and listening skills
  • tact, patience and understanding
  • resilience to cope with difficult situations
  • the ability to assess situations and take the right action
  • people skills
  • the ability to work in teams
  • IT and organisational skills


Pathways through a career in Health and Social Care are individually unique. You might start out on the same course as friends and peers, but the directions you can take as your career progresses are limitless. Progression in your learning and career can take the form of life experiences, work and educational opportunities.

  • Family related experiences including childcare, care of elderly relatives or family members with ill-health or disabilities, can provide the inspiration and motivation to kickstart your Health and Social Care career or take it in a new specialist direction.
  • Voluntary work in local residential care, schools, youth clubs or on programmes such as National Citizen Service (NCS) or Duke of Edinburgh can provide evidence of the skills and abilities needed to drive a career forward.
  • Paid work in non-care roles, but with a care provider, can help you to understand the shared values of the industry and evidence your suitability to future employers.
  • Vocational courses at local Colleges of Further Education provide a formal educational starting point or progression opportunity to develop workplace skills. Starting out on a Level 1 course, learners have the potential to progress to Level 3 (A-level equivalent) and then higher. Health and Social Care, Childcare and Education and Applied Science are relevant vocational courses.
  • Academic A-levels offer the chance to gain a deeper understanding of subject specific theory and knowledge. Although many Health and Social Care careers and degrees do not need specific academic A-level subjects, relevant ones include Biology, Chemistry, Psychology and Sociology. They are taught mainly in Sixth Forms.
  • Access to Higher Education (HE) Diplomas prepare students for study at degree level. If you would like to go to university but left school without the qualifications you need (GCSEs, A-levels or alternative Level 3 vocational qualifications), then an Access to HE course could be the way forward. There are Diplomas in ‘Health and Social Care’, ‘Health’, ‘Nursing and Midwifery’ and ‘Allied Health Professions’ amongst others. They are aimed at people aged 19 and over.
  • University Degrees are available in a huge range of Health and Social Care related areas, some are very academic (Biological Sciences, Social Sciences), some are more vocational (Nursing, Social Work). For learners choosing to study an academic degree, most professions have Postgraduate qualifications which provide specific vocational training (Physiotherapy, Radiography, Speech and Language Therapy).
  • Apprenticeships are increasingly available in Health and Social Care. Whatever level they are studied at, the common denominator is they are ‘real jobs’ with training. Opportunities are available at Level 2, 3, 4 and now at Degree level. The emergence of Degree Apprenticeships has opened up work-based pathways previously only available through a University Degree (notably Nursing). Contrary to popular belief, apprenticeships are not only for young people, they are a viable pathway for all ages.


Vocational learning

Hands-on and practical learning focused on job or industry wide skills. Can be delivered in simulated work environments and on work placements. Mostly assessed by coursework and observations, although underpinning theory (taught in the classroom) can be assessed by exam. Apprenticeships are the most specific embodiment of vocational study, although so are many University degrees which directly lead to professional accreditation.

Academic learning

Focused on ideas, theory and knowledge, academia is mainly taught in the classroom, scientific laboratories or creative workshops. Assessed by exam, essays and research papers. The tradition of academic learning is found in schools, sixth forms and Universities.

An Emerging Apprenticeship market

Notable large employers including the National Health Service and Local Authorities have been challenged to increase the number of apprenticeships they offer to meet workforce demand. We can expect to see a significant number of opportunities emerge in the next few years. And, as noted above, these are not limited to younger people.

NHS Apprenticeship Case Study

The following is a table showing some of the NHS roles available as apprenticeships;


Health Care Assistant (HCAs)

Level 2 apprenticeship

Support Worker

Level 2 apprenticeship

Pharmacy Technician

Level 3 apprenticeship

Assistant Practitioner

Level 4 and 5 apprenticeship

Patient Transport Service

Level 2 apprenticeship

Clinical Health Carer

Level 2 and 3 apprenticeship

Dental Nurse

Level 3 apprenticeship

Nursery Nurse

Level 2 and 3 apprenticeship

Health Care Science Assistant (Audiology)

Level 2 apprenticeship

Laboratory Support Technician (Clinical Health)

Level 3 apprenticeship

IT Support (NHS)

Level 3 apprenticeship

In addition, there are some exciting Higher and Degree Apprenticeship developments regarding some very popular NHS professions.

Nursing Degree Apprenticeship – training takes up to 5 years and ends with a degree in nursing. The training is funded by the NHS trust who employs you.

Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship – the North East are currently a pilot area with the lead partner, South Tees Trust, working with Teesside, Sunderland, Northumbria Universities. There are 2000 opportunities available for current NHS staff (progression route from the workforce of Health Care Assistants). Nursing Associates could then progress to a Nursing Degree Apprenticeship.

Occupational Therapy Degree Apprenticeship – with a growing demand for Occupational Therapists, the Apprenticeship meets an important need, both for patients and the healthcare sector.

The following websites are recommended to search and apply for apprenticeships at all levels across the Health and Social Care sector;


In Summary

Pathways throughout this, the largest of UK sectors, are wide and varied. There are lots of different entry points, both educationally and experientially. Subsequent progression and learning can be on-the-job, at college, at university, through volunteering or as a result of personal experiences. Everybody (no exception!) can be truly aspirational when thinking about their future career in Health and Social Care.


Further inspiration

Tracy Walters is an experienced and qualified Careers Advisor, working with Careerwave to support schools, sixth forms and colleges to make sure that their learners get the best impartial advice to set them on the right path or the future. You can find out more about the services that Careerwave offer on their website, or by following them on Twitter at @careerwaveuk