Christina Pond looks at why healthcare employers need to develop a motivated, flexible and highly skilled workforce

A workforce with the right skills and competencies is crucial for supporting new healthcare services. So it follows that enabling staff to access learning and development in ways that meet their career development needs - and that employers can influence and support - is part of the solution.

We are moving away from the days of role-based learning towards more flexible approaches based on patient need. This service-driven focus, supported by a competence-based approach to learning and development, offers an important starting point for Skills for Health demonstrator sites.

Demonstrator sites

Skills for Health is facilitating a variety of projects with 15 higher education demonstrator sites across the UK. An important part of this work will be to show how employers and learning providers can facilitate awards that are based on learning design principles.

These principles, developed by Skills for Health, set out that education and training needs should first be analysed in terms of patient and service needs. Only after this analysis can employers and education providers start to design the type of education and qualifications necessary to support this.

Qualifications should not be automatically associated with particular roles; instead, they should be focused on packages of learning that can develop into a full educational pathway. This would allow organisations to respond rapidly to changing needs.

The demonstrator sites are focusing on:

  • transferable skills across the UK;
  • fitness for purpose and practice;
  • attaining awards that are valued by employers, employees and learners;
  • accessibility and flexibility for learners;
  • a wide take-up by employees and new entrants.

The sites are showing how to take these principles and turn them into reality in actual healthcare settings. Participants are creating modules and packages of learning for areas as diverse as mental health services, stroke care, cardiothoracic continuing professional development, and management in primary care. The idea is to show how employers and learning providers can work together to develop relevant, demand-led educational pathways.

Crucially, each site is supported by a local partnership between higher education institutions, employers, local networks and other stakeholders to ensure that solutions and processes developed are relevant to local needs and agendas.

Best practice

Skills for Health believes such examples of innovative practice in education design and delivery have much to offer the entire health sector. It will be evaluating and disseminating the results so that lessons learned can be shared with other organisations that may be facing the same challenges.

This work will play a vital part in ensuring that the UK's healthcare workforce is equipped with the right skills to support new services and improve patient care.

For more on the higher education demonstrator sites, see www.skillsforhealth.org.uk