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Case Study – East of England

Apprenticeships support the development and upskilling of the future workforce, driving towards better skills, better jobs, and better health for the NHS, and delivering a sustainable workforce for improved patient care

There’s a recognition in the health sector that the Apprenticeships offer a flexible workforce development solution to support new ways of delivering services and improving patient care. With changes in recent years to funding, and already specialist information available for healthcare employers about the Apprenticeships in England, there’s never been a better time to take action and start developing your own Apprenticeship Programme.

Apprenticeships are driven by Government and link in with many other skills development agendas. At the root is a need to tackle our ageing workforce by attracting new entrants, into the thousands of possible careers in the NHS for young people and via apprenticeships at several levels. Crucially, apprenticeships are also a viable workforce development tool for those over 25 years old as well as young people, so can be used to address the entire workforce.

Employers are now more aware of the advantages of upskilling the workforce, and there’s a growing body of evidence to demonstrate the productivity and quality gains for health employers. As the Sector Skills Council for the NHS, independent and voluntary healthcare sectors, we believe there are excellent reasons for supporting the Apprenticeships. One of the most important aspects is its flexibility. Apprenticeships can be delivered in accordance with employer need, allowing employers to upskill the existing workforce – for the existing staff of any age, plus:

  • Grow their own workforce by developing a cohort of learners of young people recruited from the local community
  • Develop a set of well-trained healthcare support staff with transferable skills that support career progression all the way to higher education

The Government aims to achieve ‘World Class Apprenticeships’. The East of England Sector Skills Agreement for Health 2007 described how the workforce challenge is probably greater for Health and other Public Service sectors, because of the rates at which both demographics and the economy are changing in the region. Skills for Health, Aim higher Healthcare Strand and NHS East of England region recognised this and took steps to tackle the apprenticeship challenge with a range of partner organisations.

By working together, partners found they could support employers more effectively. They developed a range of integrated financial and development support options for employers which includes taster surgeries, learning sets, shared materials and progression accords. The concept of a ‘one-stop-shop’ support to employers has proved attractive.

More employers are recognising the benefits of offering their own Apprenticeship Programme, not least because of the challenge to recruit and develop the workforce in the face of stiff competition from other sectors. And if health employers are facing the challenge, it’s a safe bet that employers in other sectors have cottoned on to the challenge too.

‘World Class Skills’ is the Government’s follow up report to the Leitch Review, and it sets out the objective of making the UK one of the world’s leading skilled nations by 2020. That’s a laudable objective – in real terms, it would mean increased productivity of over £1,800 per worker, leading to an extra £80 billion into the economy. But getting there is the challenge facing us all. Funding for skills investment is part of the solution. The East of England is benefited from a £21.2 million three-year investment in healthcare skills, due to an agreement launched at the end of 2007.

The deal tackled regional skills gaps and shortages and extends ‘Train to Gain’ to the NHS. The rolling three-year deal was a joint investment by the East of England Strategic Health Authority and the Regional Learning and Skills Council to address skills gaps and help improve patient care by extending the skills of NHS workers across the region. On top, the new drive towards apprenticeships will add yet more substantial funding. With such generous funding pouring into the sector, and waves of initiatives requiring placements for learners there’s a danger that employers may get swamped under the avalanche of developments.

It’s vital therefore that employers get to grips with working with multiple partners, agencies and government bodies. With such a fast pace of change, it would be easy for employers to become overwhelmed by the conditions that come with accessing public sector funding.

“Partner organisations in the East of England see it as vital that employers don’t buckle under the weight of good intentions, ideas and programmes that are happening across the health sector. Important initiatives that are doing fantastic work to bring new entrants into the health sector and develop the existing workforce could falter if the process is not supported effectively. The messages are loud and clear. There are too many organisations knocking on employers’ doors. Our priority now is to set out how providers and employers can work together more effectively to close the skills gap.”

Julia Nix, Regional Director, East of England Skills and Competitiveness Partnership

Employers told us they wanted a more integrated approach to partnership working and see the current apprenticeship development and support programme for employers as an exemplar. The agreement was been reached to form an umbrella partnership to promote shared good practice and develop strong partnerships with employers. Initiatives cannot succeed without the goodwill, closer involvement and buy in from employers of all types and sizes but it needs to be made easy. The partnership provided five main areas by pooling partners’ resources to support:

  • Widening recruitment to the Health Sector
  • Achieving skills escalation and widening participation
  • Developing new roles/teams and new ways of working
  • Creating a more productive workforce
  • Generic subjects such as research, LMI and Workforce Planning

This integrated approach allowed for a virtual collaboration between partner organisations to work jointly in support of employers who wish to adopt new and creative ways of developing their workforces in response to changing demands. The vision is to bring together key partners at a regional and county level as an association to provide support to employers in a synchronised way.

“We don’t want to deal with 10 different bodies – we just couldn’t do it. So this model works for us by bringing together the full range of partners. This apprenticeship project will benefit our Trust by giving us the opportunity to grow our own, bring a younger generation into the Trust and build the workforce of the future.”

Julia Watling, Training and Development Manager, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Trust