Happy National Apprenticeship Week & Why aren’t healthcare employers better addressing the workforce gaps via apprenticeships?

This week is National Apprenticeship Week (I know it’s a busy week given yesterday’s blog post.) My good friend and ex-colleague Suzanne Smith (Apprenticeship Manager at Cygnet Health Care) asked me to write about apprenticeships and who am I to resist such a noble cause?

I’ll start off by offering my thoughts of how healthcare employers (NHS, charity, independent etc) are missing a trick by not ramping up their apprenticeship efforts to address the workforce gaps of nurses, doctors, AHPs etc. In the UK there are around forty thousand fewer registered nurses than required, and whilst I’m no mathematical wizard even I can work out that if an average UK university graduates around three hundred registered nurses per year then this is likely to increase. If I were being brutally honest I would say that our workforce plan for nursing has been ineffective at best, naïve at worst. The way that the sector recruits registered nurses is bizarre in a number of ways. There are other sectors (law, and psychology in particular) where employers have the luxury of being able to wait for future employees to educate themselves at their own expense and then viciously compete for graduate jobs. I’m sad to report that healthcare is not one of these sectors.

But this is where I think healthcare employers have a huge opportunity due to apprenticeships, whereby employers can train/educate their workforce to have the skills and qualifications that they need to fulfil a key role. I won’t go in to the specifics, but suffice to say it is an entirely win-win situation. So why are so few healthcare employers putting through so few nursing apprentices given their acute and chronic staffing vacancies? Money and the associated cost certainly plays a part but my counter argument is always that an apprenticeship nurse is far better value than agency staffing costs, especially when that cost is likely to increase the longer there are vacancies for. Time and lack of long-term planning (eg workforce) are also factors that employers would use; ‘that’s great Dean but I need a nurse for Friday night, not in three years…’ to which my reply is always ‘the best time to train/educate your future nursing workforce is ten years ago, or right now!’ Healthcare employers should be sophisticated enough to develop long-term workforce plans and budgets that reflect reality and not how they would like the labour market to be, in some sort of hazy nostalgic mirage from the 1960’s.

I work at NTU where we have some large cohorts of apprentices on the nursing and nursing associate career pathways and we are looking to expand into Graduate Entry Nursing apprenticeships too. Some employers have started to fund entire cohorts (I taught one today all from a local NHS Trust), but the numbers are still not high enough. Soon enough an employer will have to break rank and admit that training the sufficient number is going to be an expensive process, but the cost of not doing so is far greater.

So for Su, all apprentices, training providers, universities, and employers that are already ahead of the curve I want to say well done, and have a very happy National Apprenticeship week.

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