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‘Apprenticeships are a creative way to increase nurse numbers’

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Reflecting back on my years in the NHS, I believe there has never been a more important time to develop long-term opportunities for people to enter our workforce.

The changes in migration policy, driven by Brexit, and the increased competition for domestic labour mean that all of us – employers, managers and national bodies – must think creatively about how we recruit and retain people. This is particularly the case for our largest workforce – nurses – and how we shape and design the future of our roles and workplaces. Apprenticeships will play an ever more important role in this more creative approach.

“The NHS has a long history of delivering quality apprenticeships to train skilled, motivated and loyal employees”

There has been much debate recently around what education models are required to train the future nursing workforce. This debate extends beyond the registered workforce and includes discussion on how we best find and develop those who are in healthcare support roles.

With this in mind, apprenticeships – and, specifically, the introduction of the apprenticeship levy from April 2017 – require us to think creatively.

The NHS has a long history of delivering quality apprenticeships to train skilled, motivated and loyal employees who provide cost-effective solutions to addressing skills gaps across the workforce. The benefits of apprenticeships are multi-faceted and I’ve had first-hand experience of how they can be used to great effect in improving staff retention, supporting the employment of a more diverse local workforce, and improving the quality of services. We have not yet seen the best of what NHS apprenticeships have to offer.

In conversations with human resource departments and nurse directors, I’m aware that the introduction of the apprenticeship levy represents a financial challenge to already cash-strapped NHS organisations. I also recognise that much of the government architecture required to support the delivery of the levy has been slow to evolve, halting the development of workforce plans that feature apprenticeships as an integral component.

However, despite all this uncertainty I see a huge cause for hope in the work that is being done to create opportunities for apprenticeships. The announcement in November that a registered nurse degree apprenticeship standard had been approved is hugely positive news.

“The introduction of the apprenticeship levy represents a financial challenge to already cash-strapped NHS organisations”

While there are undoubtedly considerations for employers to work through in terms of how this new education and training model is used in tandem with the traditional full-time degree route, the standard should create choice and diversity, and signifies the strong brand of apprenticeships the NHS is capable of delivering.

Similarly, as the nursing associate role is being piloted across the NHS, it is heartening to hear that a group of employers has come together to look at how this new role could be trained via an apprenticeship route. Both of these developments demonstrate the appetite and confidence in apprenticeships that exists across the NHS and signal a flexible and creative means of training our future nursing workforce.

There will no doubt be lessons learned and opportunities for reflection as we enter a new phase of apprenticeship delivery across the NHS in 2017. It’s also important we take the opportunity to celebrate the success, diversity and breadth of the apprenticeship offering across the NHS. If you are involved in supporting apprentices in your team – thank you.

Danny Mortimer is chief executive, NHS Employers

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