What apprenticeships are and how to use them

Doctors transporting bed

This page provides an overview of apprenticeships. It includes information on the benefits apprenticeships can bring to your organisation, how they can be used to support your workforce plans, and links to useful resources.


In recent years the government has reformed the way apprenticeships are delivered and funded in England. As part of these reforms apprenticeships are more robust, better structured, and independently assessed to ensure apprentices gain the skills that employers need for their workforce. There is a wide range of apprenticeships now available, including higher and degree level apprenticeships. Not only can they support with addressing skills shortages, but they are an excellent means of attracting new talent, developing and upskilling existing staff, and retaining the full workforce within the NHS.

What is an apprenticeship?

The government defines apprenticeships as a job with training. They incorporate skills development, technical knowledge and practical experience through a work-based training programme. Apprenticeships are available to anyone over the age of 16 and enable learners to demonstrate competencies while gaining a recognised qualification. In a change to previous rules, individuals can undertake an apprenticeship at any level (this could be higher, equal or lower to a qualification they already hold), if it allows them to acquire substantive new skills.

Employment is a fundamental part of an apprenticeship and an apprentice must be employed in a job role with a productive purpose. In addition, the minimum duration for an apprenticeship is 12 months and the apprentice must spend at least 20 per cent of their time on off-the-job training. (For some roles such as nursing, the requirement may be more). Apprentices must be paid for time spent training or studying for the relevant qualification, whether this is while at work, attending college or a training organisation.

What is the apprenticeship levy?

As part of the reforms, the apprenticeship levy was introduced in April 2017. This levy is paid by all employers at a rate of 0.5 per cent for those who have a pay bill of more than £3million per year and is used to fund apprenticeship training costs (not employment) for apprentices. You can find more information about the apprenticeship levy, and how to use it on our apprenticeship levy web page.

Procuring apprenticeship programmes

You will need to procure a training provider to run your apprenticeship programmes, unless your organisation is already one. You can find out about how to procure apprenticeship programmes using the Health Education England procurement toolkit. More information can be found about the rules for where most procurement spend and activity takes place. 

Dynamic Purchasing System

The Crown Commercial Services (CCS) has developed a dynamic purchasing system (DPS) that makes it easy for employers in the NHS to find the right apprenticeship training, while ensuring they comply with the regulations on public procurement and apprenticeship funding rules.

CCS Apprenticeship Training Dynamic Marketplace

The Apprenticeship Training Dynamic Marketplace enables providers who register to access procurement run by the CSS and provides apprenticeship training and related services to central government departments and wider public sector organisations. For more information go to CCS apprenticeship training market place

The key enablers to providing apprenticeship programmes

To deliver successful apprenticeship programmes, an organisation will need to develop a culture of work-based learning and an approach that embeds apprenticeships as a part of what they do. Achieving this may require a combination of actions with some behavioural change. We have identified five key principles that underpin a successful culture of learning in the workplace. These key principles are:

  • leadership
  • manager buy-in and understanding
  • workforce strategy and planning
  • infrastructure
  • relationships with education providers. 

Use our work-based learning infographic and view more detail on work-based learning to support with conversations around the five key principles.

Building apprenticeships into the workforce strategy

Apprenticeship qualifications or standards range from levels 2-7. This is the equivalent of GCSE level up to master’s degree level. Apprenticeships are also available in a range of subjects and can develop individuals in many occupational competencies. These include but are not limited to, clinical apprenticeships such as nursing, advanced clinical practice, and radiography, and non-clinical apprenticeships such as senior leadership, clinical coding and facilities management.

Consider the following questions when developing your workforce plans:

  • How can a scaled-up apprenticeship offer act as an enabler of your workforce strategy?
  • Does your current apprenticeship offer align to the skills/talent pipeline you will need over the next five years?
  • How can the introduction/use of apprenticeships tackle your key workforce challenges?

The HASO website also shows the range of apprenticeships you could include as part of your workforce strategy.

There are a number of ways that apprenticeships can benefit your organisation:

Apprenticeships help develop clear career pathways and retain staff

Apprenticeship pathways are now being developed to provide higher-level technical skills and provide a great option for retaining the existing workforce and, building talent pipelines. For example, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has created a pathway from traineeship to registered nurse, which has enabled the trust to retain talent. You can view more about this and other examples in the using the apprenticeship levy resource. The HASO website also shares a wide array of potential pathways that you could develop in your organisation.

Apprenticeships can develop your existing workforce

Retaining the skills and experience of existing employers is vital if employers are to avoid future skills shortages. Many employers are now offering apprenticeships at all levels to existing staff across a wide range of roles and disciplines as part of their strategy. Find out how North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Trust has done this to improve skills in its trust.

Apprenticeships can help you to reshape your workforce

When thinking about how they can redesign and shape the workforce in order to respond to, and anticipate service needs, many employers are ensuring that apprenticeships form a key part of their workforce supply strategy. Read how Chesterfield Royal Hospital introduced band 4 roles to help build a team around the patient. This case study can also help you think about what skills and activities you want your team to have and how apprenticeships can support with that.

Attract and recruit from a wider pool of people in your local community

Apprenticeships present a genuine alternative to full-time college or university study to anyone aged 16 and over. They can widen access to employment to all areas of your local community. For example the nurse degree apprenticeship, which leads to the same qualification as the traditional route, can be offered to new or existing staff. Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust has used this approach to strengthen its nursing supply.

Recruit a diverse and representative workforce

Widening your recruitment to better reflect the community you serve is a key message of the NHS Five Year Forward View and inclusive apprenticeship recruitment can also lead to better retention rates and improved workforce supply. The benefits of establishing and maintaining a diverse and representative workforce are well understood. Teams are more innovative and creative. It is also found that patients have better experiences of care when the workforce mirrors the patient population.

When Royal Berkshire Trust identified a gap in black and minority ethnicity (BAME) senior leaders at the trust they specifically invited and encouraged BAME staff to take up the offer of a senior leadership apprenticeship. View the briefing.

For more information about how you can build a diverse workforce visit our pages on recruiting from your community. This section includes schools and community engagement, and recruiting from underrepresented community groups include care leavers, carers, people from different cultural communities and LGBT+ people. We also have dedicated web pages for supporting disabled apprentices, young people and those choosing to work longer

Further information

  • Stay up to date with apprenticeship policy, sign up to our education and training newsletter
  • Information about employing apprentices, funding and an employer’s guide to apprenticeships available on the gov.uk website
  • The HASO website also has information on the apprenticeships available in healthcare, and a range of tools and resources to support you with implementing apprenticeships in your organisation including apprenticeship pathways and a procurement toolkit

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