In the second of our blogs to mark National Apprenticeship Week, Dr Claire Thurgate, Head of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work at Canterbury Christ Church University provides a further perspective from the education sector on healthcare apprenticeships.
National Apprenticeship Week 2019 provides an ideal opportunity for higher education institutions (HEIs) to reflect on the first two years of the apprentice levy. Introduced to meet the Government’s pledge of three million apprentices by 2020 the levy applies to all organisations, in England, with a pay bill in excess of £3 million per annum. For smaller employers, including many GP practices and nursing and residential homes the funding rules require them to share the cost with Government through co-investment. The Institute for Apprenticeships (now Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education) was established to oversee the approval of high-quality apprenticeship standards.
In theory, the drive to increase the number of apprenticeships through employer-led design, including knowledge, skills and behaviour, to end point assessment was aimed at supporting the development of a knowledgeable and skilful healthcare workforce. While for HEIs apprenticeships provided an additional route to support national and local widening participation initiatives. This is imperative for many HEIs who are experiencing a reduction in student applications.
Despite these drives, the reality is different as many health organisations remain unclear about their apprenticeship priorities. Many can only support (for HEIs) non-viable numbers and are organisationally unready in terms of procurement, facilitation of workplace learning and the impact of Ofsted for level four and five apprentices (including the Nursing Associate). This has a knock-on effect for HEIs who do not know which programmes require validation (and if all employers want the same model), have viable numbers and need to be procured (in many instances). This makes student number predictions difficult as does what for many is engagement with Ofsted for the first time. Where placements are required there is potential uncertainty if there is the capacity to support all learners and if employers will provide placements for apprentices from other organisations. Recent changes to sub-contracting and the need for all organisations receiving levy money to be on the Register of Approved Training Providers (RoATP) provides an additional challenge for placements. Recent amendments for nursing associates have not fully addressed these concerns.
While the introduction of the levy has provided employers and HEIs with several challenges there have been a number of associated benefits. Employers can procure programmes and delivery models that meet their needs, for example day or block release or a presence in student assessment. For HEIs it has allowed them to develop innovative curriculum and support workforce development through work-based learning. This does demand employers and academics embrace new ways of working. The apprentice benefits from being able to work and learn to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours to progress to a new role. For all involved the most rewarding aspect is to watch the apprentice grow in confidence as they recognise their personal and professional growth.
The next year will see the picture unfurling further as more health standards are approved, employers will recognise the need to focus on apprenticeships which meet the needs of their Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) and HEIs will become more sophisticated in the support and delivery of apprenticeships.