National Apprenticeship Week helps to raise the profile of opportunities for those looking to start a career. But what about the training team that helps apprentices through their qualifications?
We recently got the chance to talk to one of our newest recruits, Craig Henderson, on why he chose this career, his experience of being a man in the industry and the importance of apprenticeships.
"I'm Craig Henderson and I am currently working as Development Coach in Residential Care with BB Training. I have been in the role for one month as of this week, so I’m still relatively new to the company. For the last two years I have worked as a Teaching Assistant in a SEN School. Before that, I spent four years in the care sector, in a variety of support worker roles across the Midlands. I am also studying part-time for an Undergraduate Degree in Health and Social Care with the Open University.”
What do you get up to in your role? What kind of area in care do you work in specifically?
My role can be quite varied and so far no two days have been the same. Primarily I deliver and assess work for Health & Social Care professionals who are looking to attain a Level 3 or Level 5 diploma in their field. Whether they are looking to progress and climb the career ladder, or gain the skills to perform better from day-to-day, it’s my job to ensure that my learners are always engaged, challenged and motivated.
I want my learners to achieve and be the best that they can be. It’s very rewarding when they feel the same way and really push to achieve something. I assess within Children’s Residential Care and currently have learners in Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands - but I’m sure that I will be working in other areas once my caseload grows!
Was there ever a moment in which you decided the care sector was for you? What made you want to work in care?
I never really had a ‘eureka!’ moment as such, I just naturally found myself working in a care role. I was a full-time carer for my mother until I turned 21, which gave me an insight into how certain health and social care systems and practices worked. It also meant that I had experience with how challenging it can be to care for someone, which encouraged me to learn more about health and social care in general.
My first step into the professional world of health and social care was when I started working night shifts on a zero-hour contract at a local care home for young adults with ASD, acquired brain injury and behavioural issues. I then moved on to full-time work with teenagers that were awaiting court appearances in a remand home. This role was very difficult, but made me realise that support workers and care workers are such a crucial part of the system and make the difference between outstanding services and poor services.
I then moved into a SEN school that catered for children aged 9-17 with ASD, ADHD, ODD, challenging behavioural issues and a number of other conditions and diagnoses. This role had its own challenges, but moving from shift work to a term-time 9 to 5 position seemed very appealing at first.
After a couple of years, however, I found that I was starting to miss the care sector and wanted to find a way that I could not only return, but give something back at the same time. I suppose my real moment was choosing to apply for my current role in order to share my skills and knowledge with other people just starting their journey in the health and social care sector.
What’s the most exciting part about your role?
I would say that meeting new people and seeing their personal and professional development is the most exciting and rewarding part of my role. Having only recently started working as a development coach myself, I can empathise with my learners and understand their current situation. Many of the people we visit are starting their journey into the world of care work for the first time after spending years in a variety of very different roles. They need support and guidance to ensure that they achieve their goals. Everybody you meet is different and wants different things from their job and it’s always excitin and refreshing to get to know people and see their hard work and determination pay off.
What’s the biggest challenge in your role?
The biggest challenge I have faced so far is setting and maintaining my own pace. In every other role I have ever had, you are required to work to the pace of the environment and the team around you. Of course, there are still deadlines to meet and tasks that need to be done promptly whilst working as a development coach, but on a general day-to-day basis, you manage your own calendar and oversee your own workload. It’s been a challenge for me to adjust to this style of working because I am so used to just being given work to do by someone else. Now that I have greater control over my own diary and day-to-day business, I have had to get used to being more independent in my work.
How has your experience been as a man in care, within an industry where the majority of workers are women? Has this made a difference? Do you feel there is a stigma there that needs to be shifted?
In every job I’ve had within the care sector, and the education sector for that matter, it has always been the case that I am one of only a handful of men within the team. In my first care role, there was a total of sixteen members of staff, only three of which were male. This kind of ratio persisted throughout the rest of my career. There was never any negativity around the subject, but in some scenarios, there was a certain amount of pressure to live up to other people’s expectations. I would sometimes be called upon to do the ‘man’s jobs’ around a house such as changing lightbulbs or moving furniture. Because of this, it did feel like me being a man was the elephant in the room, so to speak.
This kind of language also has a negative impact on young people within care homes. They need to see men and women doing the same jobs, with the same expectations. They need to be told that there is no such thing as a ‘man’s job’ or a ‘woman’s job’. Some years ago, I recall being introduced to a service user on my first day in a new job. I was one of only two men within that particular care home. When the manager told the service user that I was going to be working there from now on, he laughed and said: “but he’s a man, why would he want to do a woman’s job?”.
I think that attitudes towards men in the care sector have changed dramatically over the last few years and, in general, it’s not even a point of conversation anymore. More and more men are taking on roles within care and it’s fantastic to see companies such as Busy Bees that embrace this and treat everyone fairly and equally. I think if there ever was a stigma, it has since been lifted.
How important do you think it is to have men working in care alongside women?
I would say that it is not only very important but a necessity. When a company is looking to fill a role within their workplace it should make no difference at all whether it is a man or a woman that fills that role. Men can do exactly the same jobs that women can do, and vice versa. Thinking about Children’s Residential Care in particular, the idea of having men and women working alongside each other is about more than just equality, it is also about educating the young people that we work with, and being positive role models.
Some young people that enter the care system have had negative experiences around sexism and gender stereotypes that have a lasting impact upon them. I have worked with children of all ages that truly believe the statements ‘men are stronger than women’ and ‘cleaning is a woman’s job’ are normal, because of the environments that they have lived in and situations they have experienced in their formative years.
We need to be setting a positive example and showing everyone that the care system is an inclusive, accepting environment. Men and women should be working side by side and supporting each other every step of the way. At the end of the day, the care sector is built on a foundation of support and acceptance. This should encompass everyone involved, whether they are service users or part of the workforce that makes this such a brilliant industry to work in.
What things do you wish you knew when you started working in care or as an assessor?
When working in Children’s Residential Care, I wish I had known how to deal with difficult situations from day one. No matter how much training you are given, or how many times people warn you, nothing prepares you for that first time you are thrown into a crisis situation. Especially when you are the only member of staff in the vicinity to deal with that situation!
It would also have been good if someone had mentioned that you never truly switch off. After experiencing all of the highs and lows of a 24-hour shift, and the relief of knowing that you have three days off, you still find yourself wondering how the young people are doing, or remembering that they have contact today and knowing that they will be anxious. It can be difficult to get out of ‘carer mode’.
One thing I wish I had known when I started working as an assessor is the fact that no matter how well you prepare, or how much work you put into planning a session, there will always be a question that you are not ready for! Just when you think you have covered everything and given a learner all the information they need, they hit you with a question that you simply do not have the answer to without asking someone else first.
How important do you think apprenticeships are in providing an alternative to university education?
One of the main things I remember from my own time in education, specifically high school, was the emphasis on university. Everything you did was preparing you for university. Classes, homework, exams, it was all preparation for you studying towards a degree. Apprenticeships were hardly ever mentioned and if they were, it was never in any detail. I don’t think that the university lifestyle is for everyone. Some people are put off by the cost of earning a degree, and others by the fact that you spend so much time in a lecture hall rather than out in the field. Apprenticeships give the opportunity to learn real, valuable skills while working in a job that is preparing you for the future. I know people that went straight into university after leaving school who were then really surprised to find that they were being turned down for jobs after graduating. It was a sense of: “I have a degree in this area, why won’t they hire me?”. With an apprenticeship, you are given the opportunity to earn money and gain crucial employable skills and experience while still working towards an end goal. Today, employers are very interested in people that have completed apprenticeships within a given field as they will have spent a large portion of their time actually doing a job, rather than just reading about it.
How similar would you say your role is to a teacher and what do assessors do differently?
Having worked as a Teaching Assistant, and teaching Animal Care as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, I feel like I’ve experienced the best of both worlds when it comes to teaching and assessing. In general, my role as an assessor is very similar to that of a teacher, but there are some key differences that really make being an assessor stand out. The main difference I have found so far is that, as an assessor, you have the chance to be more adaptable. While a teacher has their own classroom or learning space, and their own resources, an assessor must use the space that is provided for them. We spend most of our time within the workplace of the person that has undertaken an apprenticeship with us, so we need to be able to adapt our work around that.
This gives us the unique opportunity to see learning in practice. We get to see the learner performing their role rather than just sitting down and talking about it. Another thing that is slightly different for an assessor is the length of time that we spend with a learner. Unlike teaching in a school or education environment, we don’t have set term dates to adhere to, and get to work with a learner for a full 18-months (if they are working towards their level 3). This enables us to develop a real bond with our learners which gives us the chance to learn a lot about them; what they like or dislike, their learning style, how best to engage them, what time of day they work best and so on. I think that having this one-to-one learning approach really benefits our learners. As a teacher, it can be incredibly difficult to offer one-to-one learning time, especially if you are working in a mainstream education setting.
How do you prepare learners to work confidently and deal with difficult situations in care?
I think it is paramount to give our learners confidence in themselves and the skills that they have developed. That is the ‘secret ingredient’ to someone working confidently; confidence and competence. As an assessor, we can spend time with a learner to give them the skills and knowledge that they need to develop their confidence and their abilities. It goes without saying that when working in care, you will experience difficult situations from time to time. So, the best way to deal with this is to be prepared. By giving our learners all the tools and information that they need to handle these situations we can start to encourage them to develop their own strategies for dealing with them. It is important to remember that everyone is different so what works for one person may not work for another. There has to be a level of willingness to learn on the part of the learner; while an assessor may have the knowledge and skills to help a learner through a difficult situation, this won’t make a difference if the learner is not willing to take that on board and really try to make a difference to their own practice. If a learner feels that you are there to support them and will have their back, there is no limit to what they can learn about their job and themselves. If you have confidence in them, they will develop confidence in themselves.
What do you think is missing for apprenticeships/residential care that could be improved going forward?
I think that there could be more done to promote apprenticeship awareness. Careers advice in schools and colleges should offer a more in-depth view of how apprenticeships work and what people can expect to achieve when taking on an apprenticeship. You can find significantly more information about universities and degrees online than information about apprenticeships. We need to get the message out there that apprenticeships work, and they are a perfectly viable route into meaningful, lifelong employment.
If you could give one piece of advice to your learners and anyone looking to do an apprenticeship, what would it be?
I would say do what feels right for you. You are in control of your own future and you will be working for many more years to come, so why not ensure that you enjoy the work you do? If the idea of working and studying at the same time appeals to you, then find an apprenticeship that will benefit you and go for it! You will be given the tools to learn while you work and take a more hands-on approach to your education. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way of developing transferable skills that appeal to a host of employers in a variety of fields and sectors. Apprenticeships are designed with the learner in mind; they offer a unique opportunity to gain relevant and practical experience for your career in the future and are much cheaper than university fees. If you have a clear career goal in mind and know that an apprenticeship can help set you on the path to achieve that goal, then go for it!