How to make NHS apprenticeships a success

Find out how NHS trusts are using their levy funds to recruit, train, inspire and retain staff.

How to make NHS apprenticeships a success

doctors and hospital workers

Despite what you may have heard, apprenticeships are good news for the NHS.

Some trusts are struggling with the new standards, while others have had issues with the 20% off-the-job requirement. However, this isn't the case for all trusts. Many have embraced apprenticeships and are using their levy funds to recruit, train, inspire and retain staff.

To find out how it's done, we spoke to Cathy Berry from GMMH – Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation – whose apprenticeship provision leads by example.

She said before the apprenticeship levy, GMMH only delivered around 60 apprenticeships. However, since the reforms, GMMH has become an employer provider registered on the RoATP with the ESFA and now delivers apprenticeships in-house and externally across the North West and Cumbria. They have partnerships with the University of Salford, The University of Chester, Trafford College, Hopwood Hall College, Bury College and Cumbria Training Centre. Cathy said, 'Our Trust covers a large footprint, with these partnerships we are able to support staff development across the Trust and have delivered 108 apprenticeships this year.'

GMMH's apprenticeship provision is varied and far-reaching. They offer level two to level five apprenticeships to existing staff and new recruits, both in-house and externally.

'We're very conscious of the public-sector target of 2.3% apprenticeships per year, especially after our merger at the beginning of last year.'  Cathy aims to increase their provision to around 200 apprentices for 2018/19, which will bring their apprenticeship figure to 4% – well above the Government's public-sector target.

Before last year's reforms, GMMH previously delivered apprenticeships under sub-contract arrangements with Skills for Health who managed the Ofsted and ESFA relationships. However, since being accepted as an employer provider on the RoATP, GMMH has a direct relationship with the ESFA and manage their own center performance and data – tracking their apprentices progress, who is on target, who needs support, who needs to be challenged, and the 20%.

When asked about the 20% off-the-job requirement, Cathy said, 'I've been in the sector for quite some time, and off-the-job training has always been part of apprenticeships – it's just that now it has been officially defined. At GMMH, we make a conscious effort not to call it off-the-job as managers then feel pressure to release staff from their work for 1 day a week. We see the 20% as ‘Dedicated Learning Time’, which is much better received.'

Cathy said it's all about supporting learners and managers so they don't get too stressed about the off-the-job learning. 'My team has looked at our programmes to see what can be used towards the 20%. We use individualised stretch and challenge projects for learners who are exempt from Functional Skills with a focus on the context of the workplace. As you would expect, with operational demands of services and the need to prioritise patient care, staff can't spend 1 day a week every week learning off-the-job, but we can make it work over the course of the year.'

Cathy’s team encourages their learners to record all their learning using the journal feature on OneFile, and assess what can be used for off-the-job. If an apprentice is learning something completely different to their normal job role, but are still at work, they are learning new skills that can be recorded as off-the-job. 'This could be shadowing a team member or taking minutes – any opportunity when apprentices are learning new skills can be recorded on OneFile, discussed with a skills coach mentor and signed off as off-the-job. That's why OneFile is so helpful. We can capture all learning as it happens so we don’t miss the opportunity to count this towards the 20%.'

GMMH has already been audited by the ESFA who were more than happy with everything they are doing. GMMH had a visit from their Pearson Lead Standards Verifier and he spoke a lot about how they stretch and challenge learners. 'We stretch and challenge all our learners – not just the highest achievers. When developing individualised Stretch and Challenge Projects, we speak to learners about what they want to learn – such as public speaking, IT skills, problem solving or reporting – and work with them to develop these skills in the context of their workplace. These activities count towards the 20% as well.

GMMH's apprenticeship provision is a huge success – and so are their individual learners. Cathy spoke about one apprentice who has completely transformed her career through apprenticeships. She started at the Trust as an Administration Assistant in the Pharmacy Department, but gave up this job to do a Pharmaceutical Technician Apprenticeship. She is now coming to the end of her programme, has a full-time role as a Technician and has won Trafford College’s Science Apprentice of the Year 2018.

GMMH is leading the way for apprenticeships in the NHS – so what is their secret? It’s all about attitude. They see the levy as a dedicated and substantial training budget, which they use to develop staff and boost retention rates. 'It's simple,' Cathy said, 'if we can meet the needs of our staff and their aspirations, we're more likely to keep them.'

Historically, the lion's share of GMMH's apprenticeships was delivered to existing staff, but they're now using apprenticeships to drive recruitment. GMMH's Director of HR and Corporate Affairs, Andrew Maloney, has embedded apprenticeships within the Trust's Workforce Strategy. With significant pressures on being able to recruit qualified nurses, Andrew’s focus is on how apprenticeships will help GMMH to 'grow-their-own' future workforce through investment in staff development from the minute they step through the door in whatever role.

Cathy thinks the secret to success is sharing too. 'The NHS is such a supportive structure – we can benefit from our partner trusts and share good practice. If anyone is struggling, reach out to trusts in your area that are further down the line. We're all here to help.'

Well said, Cathy – we are all here to help. The new apprenticeship reforms and public-sector targets are a challenge for everyone. There's so much we can do to support each other and make apprenticeships work for our trusts and our teams. The more we do to embrace apprenticeships, the more qualified staff we'll have on our wards, and the more patients we'll be able to treat.


This article includes research and opinion sourced by OneFile at the time of publication. Things may have changed since then,
so this research is to be used at the reader's discretion. OneFile is not liable for any action taken based on this research.