More and more healthcare employers are realising that apprenticeships offer a workforce development solution that supports new ways of delivering services and improving patient care.

With more public funding for apprenticeships and a new information guide about the apprenticeship programme, there has never been a better time to take action and start developing your local workforce.

The NHS has recently agreed up to£50m of funding through the joint investment framework. This provides significant additional resources to develop the skills of the workforce in NHS pay bands 1-4. The framework was agreed in July 2007 between the Learning and Skills Council, strategic health authorities in England and Skills for Health to support training and qualifications, including apprenticeships. The NHS contribution to this funding programme will be matched by the Learning and Skills Council. Additional apprenticeship funding is also available via the Learning and Skills Council in England and the Welsh Assembly.

Flexible training

Skills for Health believes there are excellent reasons for supporting the apprenticeship programme. One of its most important advantages is flexibility. Apprenticeships can be delivered in accordance with employers' needs, allowing them to:

  • upskill the existing workforce - for existing staff under 25, and now through the adult apprenticeship programme for staff 25 and over;
  • grow their workforce by developing a cohort of learners recruited from the local community;
  • develop well-trained healthcare support staff with transferable skills that support career progression;
  • meet the skills pledge to support all employees to develop their basic skills, including literacy and numeracy, and work towards relevant, valuable qualifications to at least level 2.

Since developing the health and social care apprenticeships framework, Skills for Health has been working closely with healthcare employers who are reaping the benefits of the apprenticeship programme.

Case studies

One example is Peterborough primary care trust, which used the adult apprenticeship programme to enable staff to take on new roles. Existing care support staff were trained to the requirements of a new role, "transfer of care support worker", as part of the programme. The broad curriculum of the programme was very effective, enabling staff to build their communication, numeracy and leadership skills.

The result is that the trust can now provide a more responsive service to patients in a more cost-effective way, since the new roles enable a more appropriate skill mix to be developed. It means the time qualified nurses and social workers need to spend with patients is more effectively targeted.

South Tees Hospitals trust has been supporting apprenticeship schemes for more than 10 years with an annual cohort of apprentices in health and social care.

The trust says the apprenticeships help them overcome skill shortages and provide a stable, motivated workforce that reflects the local community. Apprentices at the trust progress on to higher education or other roles in the trust.

Employers like Peterborough PCT and South Tees are finding that the extra training really does make a difference. It helps learners take pride in their work and acquire greater understanding of the tasks they are undertaking and why they are doing them.

How to get started

So what help is available for employers considering taking this route? A new guide available from Skills for Health explains the benefits of running your own apprenticeship programme, sources of funding, and working and funding models that have been successfully implemented across the health sector. Visit www.skillsforhealth.org.uk to download your copy.

There are growing levels of support for workforce development, demonstrated by initiatives such as the joint investment framework agreement and the skills pledge. This augments existing learning and skills funding for apprenticeships, an increasing level of funding for adult apprenticeships across England, and all-age funding for apprenticeships in Wales.