A practical guide to using apprenticeships degrees in the health and care sector
Two doctors pouring over a document.

Investing in upskilling talent can make a big difference in overcoming the talent challenges in the health and care sector. Stacey Hayes-Allen, Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University explores how degree apprenticeships can help, and discusses the best way to implement lifelong learning into health and care practices.

The COVID-19 pandemic, increasing demand for healthcare services, an ageing population and patients’ complex health conditions have all put a strain on the NHS in recent years. 

This has led to several new challenges, making retaining clinical and non-clinical staff more important now than ever before. 

Why degree apprenticeships?

There are a few things the health and care sector needs to tackle: improving diversity, boosting staff engagement, developing leaders and meeting the changing needs of patients. Degree apprenticeships can help health and care practices to address all of these issues.

Research from the King's Fund has shown that if employees feel happy and engaged at their NHS Trust, they’re more likely to leave a positive impact on the Trust itself. This is because employee engagement often correlates closely with absenteeism and turnover, as well as patient satisfaction, mortality and infection rates. 

Several things can impact employee engagement. For example, one factor that can have a positive influence is good senior management that supports well-structured appraisals, understands effective line management and incentivises learning opportunities.

The research also suggests that NHS employees require information to help them perform well in their jobs. This includes learning opportunities that offer feedback to build confidence and support the development of new and improved ways of providing patient care. This can be achieved when employees have trust in their supervisors and leaders and access to effective learning and development opportunities, such as degree apprenticeships.

Utilising apprenticeship degrees can also act as a huge step in widening access to senior positions. 

This is because it allows those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may not have otherwise been able to afford higher education fees, to get the qualifications – such as an executive MBA – that are often needed to enter senior leadership teams.

With those from disadvantaged backgrounds being more likely to be in entry level roles, an apprenticeship degree is a good way to support them to progress further up their career ladder; it’s also a good way of retaining them to stay within your practice, if you offer the chance to fund.

As mentioned above, the health and care sector is facing bigger demand now than ever before. To keep up, a lot of practices need to upskill their workforce. In fact, one report highlights that the NHS is significantly under managed compared to other areas of the UK workforce, emphasising the need for upskilling in health and care.

To address this, the NHS Long Term Plan outlined a vision for improving leadership and management within its organisations, with the aim of supporting more clinicians to take on executive leadership roles and supporting transitions from other sectors into leadership roles.

To enable this, there’s a need for targeted intervention at entry-level and mid-career level (for managers) to promote collaborative leadership and common organisational values, and for there to be options available for clinical leadership and non-clinical managers and leaders, to ensure preparation for leadership roles.

This will not only help health and care organisations to ensure they are implementing up-to-date knowledge and expertise for the betterment of their team and patients, but it can also ensure that those hired for entry level roles feel more driven to stay at the practice if there is a long-term career plan in place.

The guide to making sure apprenticeships work for your organisation

Degree apprenticeships are time intensive. It’s important for practices to offer the right level of support and have a strong process in place to ensure employees are well-equipped to see their studies through to the end. 

Below, we have listed out the best way to go about this:

Have dedicated learning and development champions

Research has found that the most common reason why people drop out of apprenticeships is due to a lack of support. As well as this, it’s also important to have a dedicated team member who can support and guide apprentices, as well as promote courses when recruiting. 

This could be a passionate line manager or someone in the people team, for example. This will also make sure that learners are enrolled on to the right course for them and for the practice.

Enrol the right employees

As mentioned, apprenticeship degrees are time intensive, so finding the right employee is vital.

Your apprentice should know what they want to achieve personally and professionally, and you should match this up with the overall departmental or organisational goals.

Before enrolling, you should speak with employees, hold information sessions and consult with line managers to identify the most suitable apprentices.

Your practice must also provide off-the-job training to learners, with a minimum of six protected hours per week for apprentices. 
This time is crucial for apprentices to learn new skills and implement them in their day-to-day role.

It is key to have well-established plans to ensure adequate coverage. During periods of off-the-job activities, having a strategic approach in place becomes essential to effectively accommodate and manage the off-the-job time.

Partner with the right education institution

The health and care sector has very unique challenges and requirements.

If you’re enrolling employees on a Level 6 Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship, for example, you want to make sure the course is tailored to the health and care sector and, therefore, more relevant for your team.

This will also ensure the knowledge they bring back to the practice is readily applicable.

Review what you’re offering

Once your employee has enrolled on the course, take some time out to make sure they’re applying their learning in their day-to-day job to add value in the workplace and boost their confidence.

Your education partner should be able to provide you with an overview of the knowledge, skills and behaviours their programme of study is focussing on quarterly. You can then use this as a guide to help your apprentice find workplace opportunities to try out their new learning.

Train line managers

Finally, line managers supporting apprentices must actively participate in the regular progress reviews so they can support learners.

This involves preparing for and attending reviews with the educational institution, as well as providing support towards the implementation of the action points identified.