One of the considerations for people choosing a social care career is whether to work within the private or the public sector. While the tasks conducted are broadly similar, whatever the organisation, other considerations may affect your choice, but there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice – it all depends on your preferences. Private sector settings can be diverse, roles and responsibilities flexible and – in smaller care settings, they may offer closer relationships with management. We look at the factors that you should consider when making your decision, including:
- organisational structure
- job responsibilities
- career progression
- pay scale
Social care jobs: public or private?
Some people prefer working for a council or public organisation because it seems to offer security. Whichever route you choose, a social care recruitment agency can direct you to a variety of employment opportunities. So, what might affect your decision? Let’s take a look.
While the care worker’s role is fundamentally the same wherever they work, in the public sector, social workers and care workers are positioned in large, hierarchical structures – as small cogs in a large machine. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. Advantages are that there are established, secure policies, practices and structures of support which offer security and stability. There are clear line management and communication channels to distribute information up and down the hierarchy. A disadvantage can be that numerous tiers of line management between carers at grass roots level and the Director can make management seem impersonal and remote, and a fairly rigid bureaucracy and long chains of communication can make the organisation less flexible and responsive.
Whilst there are some large private social care organisations; there are many smaller private companies that do not have huge, hierarchical structures. In smaller organisations, there is a shortened chain of command, and closer relationships with care workers, social workers and managers often in direct contact daily. With the rise of social enterprises and community-owned companies, there are even opportunities for staff to become shareholders or decision-makers in the management structure themselves.
Social workers in the public sector tend to have fairly fixed job descriptions and responsibilities. They are generally assigned to one department, exclusively dealing with either children or adults, or specialising in assisting the homeless or disabled. This is a chance to specialise, but there is not that much flexibility. In the private sector, however, some agencies accept more than one service user group. Carers could be assigned to a variety of service users or tasks, depending on their own personal skills, interest and the needs of the organisation and its clients.
A large proportion of Qualifies Social Worker jobs are in the public sector, although care worker jobs are prevalent in both sectors. With local authorities increasingly outsourcing services and commissioning more and more private companies to deliver care support, there are likely to be increasing job opportunities within the private sector.
A large hierarchical organisation does offer more opportunities for career progression into team leadership and other supervisory roles, progressing into case management roles and executive positions.
A smaller business or flatter organisational structure obviously does not offer so many opportunities for promotion. Roles may be limited by the size of the company, or progression routes may not usually so clearly defined. On the other hand, for people with obvious skills and talent, it can be easier to be noticed by senior management in a smaller company. It is easy to become a big fish in a small pond – and some smaller organisations may place candidates in positions of considerable importance in a relatively short period of time.
One common variable in the private sector is the pay scale. Care workers may start on anything from national minimum wage, the living wage or better-paid positions since pay scales are completely dependent on the individual company’s policy, priorities and profits, which can vary considerably across organisations.
The public sector uses a more standardised approach. Candidates largely know what they will receive in salary for specific levels and positions, but this can also vary, depending on geographic location. Social workers in London and the Southeast are paid at higher rates to account for the cost of living. The availability of funds in individual council budgets and the overall demand for social care in the local population means that opportunities vary from area to area.
Experienced candidates may have some leverage when negotiating a starting salary within the public sector, but private-sector employers may be in a better position to reward your experience, especially if they are in a profitable position.