John Rogers, chief executive of Skills for Health – the Sector Skills Council for the NHS, independent and voluntary healthcare sectors - interviews David Lammy, Minister for Skills and former Under-Secretary of State for Health.

JR: In your current role as Minister for Skills - and in view of your prior experience as Under-Secretary of State for Health – during your lifetime, how do you think skills needs have changed in the healthcare sector?

DL: In keeping with the whole economy I think skills needs in the healthcare sector have become crucial to delivering a high class service. Like the rest of the economy, healthcare is looking to improve productivity to enable it to function more efficiently, but can only do that if its workforce has adequate skill levels and that all of the workforce fulfils its potential. We must rise to the challenges and seize the opportunities that our rapidly changing world presents if we are to secure the healthcare service we all desire.

JR: Do you agree that, within the healthcare sector, all skills at all levels are important and that it is more critical to have the right people with the right skills in the right place than in any other sector?

DL: Skills needs in the healthcare sector have changed in order to reflect patients’ needs. New ways of working, new treatments and procedures and the shift of more services into the community reflect patient choice and require a health workforce that has the right skills for the new healthcare environment.

JR: You are on record talking about the forces of globalisation and the "unprecedented opportunities that the global marketplace presents". Could you explain how you think globalisation could affect the NHS, independent and voluntary healthcare sectors in the UK.

DL: Globalisation is an opportunity for the Health Service in the UK. We can use it to enhance the Health Service by widening the scope for innovation and taking on good practice from other organisations around the world. It is an opportunity for the Health Service to take advantage of specific global expertise.

JR: You have also spoken about “the remarkable changes that can happen when people embrace learning”. Do you have any examples of these changes – in particular, any that you came across during your time as Under-Secretary of State for Health?

DL: I think my answer to this question would be to emphasise just how important it is for every single person to embrace learning; how it can lead to a more rewarding and fulfilling life. For example, evidence suggests that individuals with level 1 numeracy earn between 6-10 per cent more than those with numeracy skills below this level. Someone with a level 2 qualification earns on average around£100,000 more over their lifetime than an otherwise similar person who leaves learning with below level 2 qualifications. Someone with a level 3 earns on average around£85,000 more over their lifetime than an otherwise similar person who leaves learning with level 2 qualifications. Someone with an Advanced Apprenticeship (level 3) earns on average around£100,000 more over their lifetime than someone who leaves learning with level 2 qualifications. The average graduate earns on average around£100,000 more over their lifetime than an otherwise similar person with a level 3.

JR: You regularly outline your vision about the "jobs of tomorrow". In your view, what will the "jobs of tomorrow" look like in the healthcare sector?

DL: As healthcare changes, and new drugs and technology offer new ways to treat patients, the role of all NHS staff is changing and we are seeing the development of roles that cut across various professional boundaries - including doctors. Many existing professionals are taking on additional tasks associated with special interests, which offer benefits to patients. These roles enable existing professionals to use their skills more appropriately and, with the acquisition of additional competences, deal with more complex cases. We must remember that no healthcare professional works in isolation and care is now delivered in different ways by a variety of healthcare professionals. Finally, the aim is to increase capacity and ensure that the most appropriate practitioner within the healthcare team gives patients the most appropriate treatment.

JR: What benefits do you believe employers in the healthcare sector will gain by investing in their employees?

DL: Government is doing all it can to shape the skills system around the needs of its customers – employers and individual learners. Through the new Commission for Employment and Skills and a reformed network of Sector Skills Councils, employers will be able to exert real leverage over both the content and delivery of skills and employment programmes.

Working through their Sector Skills Councils, we are giving employers the leading role in the reform and development of qualifications for their sector. Employers will determine the content of vocational qualifications for their sector, and advise as to which should be priorities for public funding. We will also make it easier for employers to have their own training programmes accredited.

Employers need to act too. We encourage all employers to follow the example set by McDonalds, Sainsbury, Ford Motor Company and all Government Departments and make the Skills Pledge. Employers who make the Skills Pledge will be able to access support – and subsidised training – through the Train to Gain service.

JR: You have urged employers to visit the Train to Gain website and to make the Skills Pledge, but what additional messages would you like to send out to the healthcare sector employers specifically?

DL: Skills for Health, the Learning and Skills Council and Strategic Health Authorities, with the support of DIUS and Department of Health now have a framework in place with up to£100m annually to tackle skills gaps and shortages. I would urge all health care sector employers to take advantage of this opportunity to support their workforce to develop their skills and to fulfil their potential.