Celebrating apprenticeships across the NHS

Danny Mortimer

14 / 3 / 2016 9am

One of my clear motivations in taking on my role at NHS Employers was a belief that there was so much more we could do to attract and make best use of the talented people in the communities we serve.

As 2015/16 nears to an end, it is extremely heartening to know that over 17,000 apprenticeship starts will have been delivered over the course of this financial year. These are big numbers, which I believe show the appetite for apprenticeships across the NHS. But in talking numbers, I think it’s important that we don’t forget the human element of what makes an NHS apprentice.

To mark last year’s National Apprenticeship Week, I was lucky enough to record a podcast with apprentices from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. In speaking to these apprentices, I was struck by their enthusiasm and the high regard in which they held the apprenticeship model for equipping them with the skills needed to progress their careers in the NHS.

These and many other similar real life stories get behind the numbers and emphasise the quality of the apprenticeships the NHS has to offer. They also testify to the importance of apprenticeships as a means of us finding and retaining talented people. However, apprenticeships don’t just happen: they require time and investment from a whole host of individuals, from those involved in mentoring and supervision, to members of the board who commit to investing in apprenticeships and delivering them as a key component of their workforce plans. To these individuals, as well as the apprentices themselves, I would like to say thank you.

Whilst celebrating NHS apprenticeships, I need also to acknowledge the shifting landscape when it comes of the future direction of apprenticeships policy. The apprenticeships levy is due to come into effect in April 2017 and brings with it financial implications for all large employers in the NHS. To ensure that employers are able to get back what they pay in, it is essential that apprenticeships become a more integral part of the wider workforce development package.

The government is also looking to public sector bodies, including the NHS, to lead the way in the delivery of apprenticeships. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education have recently consulted on proposals to introduce targets set at 2.3 per cent apprenticeship starts per year, to be calculated based on the headcount of an organisation. NHS Employers has responded to this consultation to represent the views of employing organisations (download and read our response in full here). Within our response we have made clear that the NHS is firmly committed to the apprenticeship agenda but called on government to ensure the timescales for the proposed changes are in step with the availability of the required apprenticeship standards and architecture to scale up delivery. The commitment to apprenticeships also needs to be set against the other commitments we have to the teaching of undergraduate and postgraduate clinical staff. We look forward to government’s response to the consultation over the coming months.

The need to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of suitably qualified staff remains a top priority for ensuring delivery of services in line with the vision set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View and beyond. In this respect, I feel strongly that apprenticeships offer a real opportunity for addressing our short to medium-term supply challenges as well as investing in the training and development of the workforce for the longer term. With new apprenticeship standards on the horizon, opportunities will also be presented for how apprenticeships can be used, not just for entry-level roles, but to recruit to other parts of the workforce.

As a final point, and before I sign off, I would like to take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a happy National Apprenticeship Week 2016. I hope that you are able to set aside some time this week to celebrate apprenticeships in the NHS and the contribution apprentices are making to our organisations and the communities and patients we serve.

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