Communication skills for caring

Are you a social service worker who needs to develop your skills in reading, writing, listening or speaking? Here you will find where you can get help across Scotland, in your local area or online.

Information for workers

Communication skills are important in social services work. For instance, information that you record will affect decisions made about the care of people using services. It is important that all social service workers are committed to learning and improvement. Improving your communication skills will help you do your job well and to progress in your career.

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There are lots of ways to learn and it often doesn’t cost you anything. This guide will tell you what is available but also talk to your employer about how they can help. Think about whether you learn best:

In a group

At work

On your own with a tutor

In your own time on the internet.

Talk to your manager if there is anything that could make it difficult for you to take part in learning. For instance, do you have small children, or no free time and are unable to go to an evening class? Would learning when you are at work be better for you? Would you rather do your learning privately, in your own time?

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Help is available if you have a disability, or a specific learning difficulty (for example, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autistic spectrum disorder) that affects your ability to read, write, speak, or listen. Your rights are protected by the Equality Act 2010 and programmes like Access to Work can make sure you get the support you need to do your job. This could be:

  • software for your computer that reads back text, or allows to you speak out loud (dictate) what you want to write
  • a personal listening device (FM system) to improve the performance of your hearing aids or cochlear implant
  • a hand held digital magnifier to enlarge print wherever you are.

Access To Work can help to assess your needs at work and to support you. If you are learning at a college, ask to see the learning support team or disability adviser.

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About this guide

This guide is for employers and workers in Scottish social services. It can also be used by people providing unpaid care. It has information about how and where people can get help to improve their communication skills for work.

Communication skills are things like reading, writing, speaking and listening. At work you use these skills when:

  • understanding people who use services and other workers
  • speaking to people who use services, their families and carers
  • sharing information with your team
  • writing reports
  • completing SVQ work
  • filling in forms
  • taking notes in meetings
  • using computers
  • writing emails and letters.

Being a social service worker sometimes involves complex and new tasks. You might already have lots of skills but we can all aim to be better at our jobs.

Improving your communication skills will help you to:

  • do your job to a high standard
  • help people using services with filling in forms and understanding information
  • successfully complete SVQs and other training
  • get promoted, or apply for new jobs.

You can choose which way you prefer to learn:

in a small group

at work

in a class

in a college, or community centre

one-to-one (1:1)

using the internet

Information for employers

The SSSC Codes of Practice for Social Service Workers and Employers say employers should provide good quality learning and development opportunities to help social service workers do their jobs effectively and prepare for new and changing roles and responsibilities.

Discussing a person’s English or literacy skills is potentially very sensitive. The way we talk and our reading and writing abilities are important aspects of our identity.

People might feel self-conscious or upset when told they need to improve these skills. Some staff from overseas may be highly qualified in another country and being told they need to improve basic skills could be embarrassing for them.

Those who began working in social care before qualifications became necessary may have many excellent care skills. You will not want to lose workers with otherwise good skills because they are offended or unsure about what is involved in improving their communication skills.

Deciding with workers what they need to learn

The best way to get started is to look at the requirements of a job. Rather than telling someone they need to improve their English, or reading and writing, look at the specific tasks expected of someone in their role.

You can then discuss together what they would like to do better; examples could be tasks like emailing family members, writing reports, being clear on the words for bodily functions and so on.

Looking for inspiration? Here are two examples of task-based job profiles that are used for this purpose in Norway. One of the documents is for nursery assistants and the other for those assisting with personal care. These should give you some ideas.

Use Plain English if you make your own task-based job profiles. Find out what this means using the free guides on the Plain English website

In your conversations with workers, make sure you acknowledge the skills and strengths the worker already has. Listen respectfully and create a record of your meeting that includes:

  • which skills the worker is going to improve or learn
  • what they are willing to do to achieve this
  • any financial costs and how these will be met
  • what barriers the worker expects
  • how barriers could be overcome
  • a specific plan including when and where learning will happen
  • how and when you will review the plan together
  • how you will both know when the worker’s goal has been achieved.

You might find it helpful to look at the tips on performing skills checks from the Care Skillsbase archive

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Provide clear information about:

  • where and when learning can be accessed
  • what workers will learn
  • if they can learn during work time, or their own time
  • whether there are costs and what help with costs is available.

Choosing Workforce Learning is a helpful guide produced by Skills for Care. Download it from the Learning and Development section of the website

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You or your colleagues might be interested in providing direct support or informal tuition to workers and people using services. Here are some ideas on training and resources to help you do this.

English My Way

English My Way is a free online resource for tutors who support and teach adults with no or low levels of English – providing free teaching resources and tools to manage classes. The syllabus is as follows.

  • Designed to help learners develop skills and confidence in reading, writing, listening and speaking English. These learners may also have literacy issues in their own language.
  • Flexible. You can run all sessions over a shorter period of time if you need to.
  • Blended. The programme is designed to be delivered through a mix of tutor-led sessions, online learning and volunteer group activity.

All the materials for English My Way are available for free on the website.

Professional Development Award in Supporting Adult Literacies Learning

This course is accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and is at level 6 on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). A number of colleges and learning centres across Scotland offer it, usually in the evenings or at weekends. Find out more about what you will learn with this qualification and search for where it is offered on the SQA webpage.

That Reading Thing

This online course will help you learn how to teach reading to young people and adults. It uses evidence-based techniques that provide fast results. You also get teaching materials that are age appropriate and proven to work. Ongoing support for tutors is available. There is a charge for this which includes all the teaching resources. Discounts are available for charities that want to train a number of people. All the information, including a free taster session, is on the website. Teaching materials with job-specific vocabulary are available on request at no extra cost.

Skills for Care

Skills for Care produces learning materials called Learning Through Work. If you do not want to do any formal training but would like to support workers when natural learning opportunities come up, you might find these materials useful.

The complete pack contains seven bite size booklets that can be used anytime and anywhere to boost confidence and competence. You can read a topic together with workers, discuss it and look at how it can improve daily practice.

Topics include:

  • reporting and other care work writing
  • writing skills for care workers
  • talking about bodily functions and feelings
  • physical health.

You can buy packs and accompanying guides by clicking on the bookshop button at

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Find learning opportunities

You will need a laptop, tablet or smart phone to use these resources. You will also need an internet connection and some computing skills. These online resources are free to use.

BBC Learning English

Study a full-length course, or choose small parts to study. Courses at different levels from beginners to advanced.

BBC Skillswise English

Videos, listening activities, texts and grammar exercises for ESOL learners at every level. The English for Work section has resources that are suitable for people who are working in the care sector, in particular with the elderly.

ESOL Nexus from the British Council

Practical literacy skills for adults on topics like reading, writing, spelling, grammar, speaking and listening at different levels. There are sections on English skills for care and childcare.

Resource Centre

Guide on how to write minutes (notes) in a meeting.

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Wherever you live in Scotland, these organisations will be able to tell you about relevant courses available in your area.

The Big Plus

Learn Website

My World of Work

Learn Website

Personal Assistants Network Scotland

Learn Website

Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) Scotland

Learn Website
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