The Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust


21 / 04 / 2011

The trust has introduced apprenticeships, standardised job descriptions for Bands 2 and 3 healthcare support workers and plan to implement assistant practitioners. The purpose was to create a transparent career framework whilst addressing an imbalance in the age profile of the workforce.

The organisation

The Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (BCPFT) provides mental health and learning disability services to people in the Sandwell area of the West Midlands. Currently (March 2011) there are just over 1,000 staff working for the trust and 80 per cent of employees live within a ten mile radius. On 1 April 2011 the trust changed their name from Sandwell Mental Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust.

What we did and why

The trust was concerned that the age profile of its workforce was heavily weighted towards older staff and if nothing was done to remedy the situation there would be future implications for workforce supply. The organisation was also aware that changes to nursing pre-registration education placed an onus on them to consider how they could contribute to the widening participation agenda.

Starters and leavers over a 12 month period were mapped for benchmarking purposes and the age profile of the workforce was extrapolated for the next three, six and nine years. This indicated the trend would continue with a disproportionally high age profile that would not be sustainable in the longer term. In addition, the trust (as are all others) is facing increasing costs so this would assist towards the cost savings programme.

BCPFT  took a whole workforce approach and established a career framework from level 1 through level 5, with the intention to employ 16-19 year old apprentices at level 1 to begin to redress the age imbalance.

How we did it

The trust undertook an organisation wide change process that resulted in apprenticeships at level 1 of the career framework, harmonised job descriptions for healthcare support workers at levels 2 and 3 (with a clear distinction between them) and are preparing to introduce assistant practitioners at level 4. The intention was to develop a transparent career framework to allow for career progression and sustainability of supply.

Two apprenticeship structures were developed, one each for clinical and non-clinical. The decision was also made to try and offer meaningful employment to apprentices if they were of a suitable quality, considering the time and money that was invested in them. Rather than just badge certain roles as apprenticeships, the trust committed to keeping some Band 2 positions vacant with a view to fill these with suitable staff from the apprenticeship cohort.

The trust created an apprenticeships policy that outlines the process and includes the development of a pay structure for apprentices, which is co-ordinated centrally by HR. The development of their own pay scale for apprentices, is in consultation with staff side representatives, as they felt that Agenda for Change Annex U was not suitable for their needs.

Line managers for the apprentices were carefully selected to ensure they had suitable management skills, understood the purpose of introducing apprentices and the benefits to the organisation. The analysis of the age profile of the workforce in nine years time was a useful tool to help convince managers of the value of apprentices. By asking the question "who will deliver your services in nine years time?", managers could appreciate the value of having a long term plan to move towards attempting to redress the age profile of the workforce.

Apprenticeships were promoted in the staff magazine and they intend to follow this up with case studies.

The results and next steps

The initial cohort of five apprentices was not a success. The trust presumed the apprentices would be exceptionally keen and would already have an understanding of the expectations of the workplace. The initial cohort struggled with meeting hours of work, had problems with absence and did not complete their apprenticeships.

The trust learnt from this and put more emphasis on a robust recruitment and selection process (including emphasis on acceptable levels of numeracy and literacy) and overhauled the induction for apprentices. The new induction process set out clear expectations about their role, appropriate behaviours at work and the purpose and role of the trust. The future intention is to recruit apprentices directly, rather than through a provider organisation.

BCPFT currently have twelve apprentices from a second cohort. The improvements introduced after the initial experience have made a significant difference. The apprentices are progressing very well with the expectation that some of these will go on to fill Band 2 posts within the trust.

The trust believes they can make significant savings over a five year period whilst simultaneously increasing the headcount. However, the change programme is not about saving money but about creating a transparent career framework that will enhance security of supply, work towards improving the age profile of the workforce and improve employment opportunities and skills for younger people in the local community. They are in year one of a five year change plan.

Top tips

  • Use evidence, such as age profile reports and mapping exercises to inform your process and to convince others regarding the necessity to change.
  • Involve staff side representatives in the process, particularly if developing your own pay structure for apprentices.
  • If using a partner organisation to provide apprentices, ensure you are involved in the recruitment and selection process.
  • Include literacy and numeracy testing as part of the recruitment process and examine attitudes and behaviours.
  • Develop an induction programme that is relevant to the audience.

Further information and contact information

Alan Duffell, Director of Workforce & Learning

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