Interested in working in healthcare? An apprenticeship could be for you

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By David Benady

Apprenticeships have always been a key supply line for the NHS – but now a broader range of care providers are getting in on the act

The health and care sectors offer a wide range of apprenticeships spanning careers such as nursing, working in a pharmacy, dental nursing, healthcare technician or clinical healthcare support worker. Then there are social care apprenticeships – which involve learning to care for adults with learning disabilities, autism, dementia, or drug dependency, or working with homeless people or those at the end of their life.

Apprenticeships in the National Health Service (NHS) have been given a boost with a new government target that public bodies should have 2.3% of their workforce on apprenticeships (pdf). There is also a new nursing degree apprenticeship so nurses can qualify while earning a wage.

Sandwell and Birmingham hospital trust takes on apprenticesin a range of roles, from nursing and theatre assistants to medical engineering and business administration. Maxine Griffiths, manager of widening participation at the trust, says most apprentices are looking to get some practical experience of nursing.

“An apprenticeship gives them a taste of what the NHS is all about. A lot of young people are aspiring to be nurses and they don’t want to go straight down the university route. Coming in as an apprentice healthcare support worker or healthcare assistant gives them that live experience out on the wards, working with patients, getting a taste of what it is really like.”

The trust is a training provider, so offers training in-house, but also works with external training companies. One of the ways it is aiming to meet the target of having 2.3% of workers as apprentices is by looking at some of the routine jobs in the trust that can be turned into more specialist roles.

Health and care is a huge and expanding sector, with plenty of jobs on offer – not only in the NHS but also at local authorities, private care providers and voluntary organisations. Peter Barron, a project manager at training organisation Skills for Care, says adult social care has the largest proportion of apprenticeship starts across the economy, plus a high completion rate, with many ex-apprentices finding work in the sector: “There are an estimated 1.58m jobs in this sector, and lots of opportunities all over the country.”

Eden Futures, which runs care centres for people with learning disabilities and autism, offers an apprenticeship course that leads to a diploma in health and social care.

Human resources director Tuesday Wilmott says: “It is a really varied, challenging role at times, but people can really get a lot out of the work we are doing.”

The company works with training provider Lifetime, which assigns an assessor to each apprentice to work with them on their diploma. Each assessor will have regular meetings with their apprentices, assessing their practices while they are on shift and getting feedback from their managers as to how they are progressing and whether they are satisfying the diploma’s criteria.

“We offer a blended approach, with e-learning, face-to-face learning, on-the-job mentoring and coaching. We run bespoke training in autism, managing mental health, diabetes, epilepsy, managing challenging behaviour and positive behaviour support, which is about how staff learn the skills to support people who may at times be challenging,” says Willmott. She believes this is good preparation for the careers that await: “It gives people who may be new to health and social care a really broad understanding of the needs of the people that they will be supporting.”

Many early-stage apprenticeships in health and care pay the minimum wage or slightly above, although pay increases for higher-level apprenticeships. But, perhaps more importantly, the health and social care sector offers plenty of opportunities for people with the right values to launch successful careers that could take them all the way up to director level.

The facts

Leading the field
Health, public services and care was the biggest area for new apprenticeships in 2016/17, with 138,000 courses started – up 7,000 from the year before (pdf). Other major apprenticeships sectors, such as business, retail and engineering, all recorded declines.

Demographics and demand
The need for nurses, healthcare assistants and social care staff is growing strongly. There is an increasing number of elderly people in need of care as the population lives longer. Skills For Care says there are, on an average day, 90,000 unfilled vacancies for social care jobs in England, predicting the sector may need between 350,000 and 700,000 new starters by 2030. The NHS has more than 15,000 vacancies on its website.

Don’t take my word for it
There are plenty of excellent opportunities for apprentices in hospitals and with care providers, but somebody has to be top dog. Apprenticeship comparison site puts Anchor Trust – a not-for-profit group providing housing, care and support to people over 55 – in pole position.

Made-to-measure training
The new standards, which set out what an apprenticeship should cover, are developed by employers and replace the old system of “frameworks”. In health and social care, the body responsible for overseeing standards is Skills for Health. It has created standards for roles such as adult care worker, healthcare science assistant and healthcare support worker. There are also non-clinical or care roles related to the health sector, such as business administrator, hospitality manager and data analyst.

‘You learn skills you can take anywhere’

Justine Smith’s time as a health and social care apprentice helped her make some key career decisions

I took a level 2 apprenticeship in health and social care based on a ward at Sandwell hospital in West Bromwich. It lasted a year, finishing in February.

When you first start, you have the basic training, such as life support and handling, so you know how to move a patient’s bed correctly. I was mentored by a qualified healthcare assistant. I stayed by their side and they taught me the day-to-day role. I would shadow them to find out how they do things, then take those skills out into the big bad world on my own.

I worked on the assessment unit where we assessed the patients and allocated them to the specialist wards. I was doing a lot of basic hygiene – I’d come in and help patients get washed and changed and make their beds, making sure they were fresh for their breakfast. Then throughout the day I took their blood pressure, respiratory rates and heart rates, and gave that information to the nurses. Every day is different on the ward. It is a 37½ hour working week with shifts of either 7½ hours or 11½ hours.

This opportunity came to me through my mum, because she is a nurse. To get on the course you need the basic English, maths and science GCSEs and you qualify after a year with a level 2 qualification in health and social care.

I would say that you need to be very strong willed and you have to be very talkative, because you need to be able to speak when you don’t understand something. You need a very strong stomach too, and you need to be very understanding and have good listening skills.

I did want to be a nurse but this has changed my mind a little, because it is something that I don’t believe I could do – it is very emotional. When a patient passes away that is the biggest thing for me – anything else I can deal with, but every time a patient passes away it cuts me very deeply. I will stay on the agency side of things and work as a healthcare assistant part-time.

But the experience and training will help in other careers because you learn skills that you can take anywhere, such as safeguarding, conflict resolution and basic life support. I’d like to go into a teaching role and those skills will be really helpful dealing with the kids.

The support you get in the training is something you can take with you anywhere.

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