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    Currently apprenticeships are growing in terms of supporting current business outcomes but one area that it supports is opening many doors to widening participation for many learners seeking both employment and qualifications.

    The evolution of apprenticeships provides fantastic opportunity to develop career pathways within the health and social care sector.

    Apprenticeships remain a vibrant part of vocational education and training and this article has an emphasis on widening participation and the approaches that support learners, who may not have followed the traditional path of gaining formal qualifications.

    Meeting the growing requirements for Health and Social Care sector employees to have accredited qualifications is embedded into Acts of Parliament recognising the importance within the structure of training and standards, laid out within the Health and Social Care Act (2008), Regulation 19.

    For many employers, apprentice schemes are rigid and disadvantageous to the business but at University College Birmingham (UCB) we are able to negotiate this and offer a working model to suit their delivery.

    We are able to deliver offsite and can arrange timetables to suit workforce needs, for example offering afternoon delivery to ensure healthcare apprentices are available in the morning for their usual clinics.

    We have developed a wide range of online resources to ensure there is a flexible approach to learning, for example health scenarios are filmed in the Health Hub, a state of the art virtual learning environment utilising simulation manikins.

    Flipped learning allows the learner to watch the scenarios independently, in their preferred setting, and then engage in discussion forums with lecturers and others in their group.

    A cross pollination of experience, ideas and best practice takes place, enabling the learners to embed this into the practice.

    There is an opportunity for apprentices to begin their journey in further education at intermediate apprenticeship level two.

    This is appropriate to someone new to their role in health and social care or without a formal qualification in the sector. Embedded within an intermediate Level 2 apprenticeship standard is the requirement to achieve Level 1 Functional Skills in English and Maths and the Care Certificate.

    This in return provides the employer with a safe and knowledgeable employee, who can provide and record a high standard of care. This approach requires a partnership to form and develop between the education provider, learner and employer.

     A Senior Healthcare Worker role offers the opportunity for a valued employee to undertake an advanced apprenticeship at Level 3, with the requirement to achieve Level 2 Functional Skills and demonstrate they continue to meet the 15 standards within the Care Certificate.

    An accredited qualification is included in the standard. This role allows the employer to delegate more complex tasks such as venepuncture and ECGs, which are offered as option units.

    This supports the employee to achieve competence, tailored to the requirements of the employer’s workforce plan.

    The Level 5 Assistant Practitioner Higher Apprenticeship then offers opportunity for an experienced Health Care Worker to make the transition from further to higher education.

    This requires the development of academic skills, such as referencing and essay writing. Learners require support to make this transition successfully and gain confidence in their growing academic abilities.

    The level of responsibility in this apprenticeship requires the learner to demonstrate knowledge, skills and behaviours in leadership and management, applied in a variety of vocational situations.

    Learners engage in simulation in virtual learning environments, for example assessing and managing the care of a deteriorating patient.

    This helps the learners engage in a safe learning environment, allowing them the time and confidence to ask questions and direct their own learning to their vocational area. 

    Sharing experiences with their learning peers, who are from a diverse range of settings, allows them to consider the lifespan and range of care available across the health and social care provision.

    Learners completing Level 5 Higher Apprenticeships in Care Leadership and Management and Assistant Practitioner were really keen to continue their learning journey at UCB.

    Degree apprenticeships, relevant to the sector, were not available for delivery at that point in time.

    Working in partnership with learners, employers and academic staff a top up degree at Level 6 was created and validated.

    This offered our learners the opportunity to progress onto a BSC (Hons) in Applied Health and Social Care Practice, which mirrors the delivery style of their apprenticeship, but is currently funded by the employee and / or employer.

    The degree includes assessment in practice, to ensure learners continue to embed their growing knowledge of theory and concepts, into their practice.

    Many employers have been keen to support their employees beyond the apprenticeships, providing support in the form of study leave and or financial support.

    Going above and beyond is an important ethos at UCB and one that meets our learners goal to achieve.

    This requires the education provider, learner and employer to believe that it is important to achieve and embed the skills needed within an apprenticeship. We have provided an excellent standard of teaching and assessment, recognised by Ofsted (2017) and the awarding bodies.

    Our goal from the beginning of the apprenticeship training journey was to create a career pathway that the learner and employer could visualise.

    Quality is key in the infrastructure, resources provided for learners and in the continuing professional development opportunities for current teaching professionals, within the apprenticeship provision.

    There are many ways that individuals go that extra mile and a nurturing environment is key. All members of staff have come from a vocational background, which allows learning to link strongly to current vocational practice within the classroom.

    This allows the learner to relate to their own journey of vocational practice. In our experience both the learners and employers value starting their journey with us on Level 2 apprenticeship standards.

    Learners are encouraged to not just to achieve at that level, but to seek further levels and progression. The business vision is shared through a successful triadic approach to partnership working.

    UCB has a successful relationship with many local employers, including Modality GP Partnership who currently employ a Senior Healthcare Assistant studying on a Level 5 Assistant Practitioner programme.

    The management team at Modality team frequently visit UCB for employer engagement events and provide feedback for validation of new programmes.

    Modality Partnership have supported UCB in its development of training facilities, advising on appropriate equipment to purchase for the virtual learning environment in the Health Hub.

    We encourage apprentices to join in additional short courses to enhance their continuing professional development, beyond the requirements of the apprenticeship standards.

    This allows the employer to see the benefits of investment and progression opportunities.

    We continue to work on the development of new programmes, such as a MSc Health and Social Care, to ensure learners can continue their journey and progression both in terms of employment and academic qualifications.

    However, this arguably is the destination for only a small number of learners. We have found that to progress the development knowledge and skills in the workforce and embed high standards within the health and social care sector, there needs to be a thirst for progression in both the academic content and the job market.

    We have many apprentices, from Advanced practitioners to Higher level management, who have managed to progress to more senior positions within the health and social care sector, and then offering social mobility in the workforce.

    This shows the confidence being built in the apprenticeships from employers, but also in the development of the learner.

    Having the skills to be able to progress and succession plan for the health and social care sector workforce undoubtedly supports the infrastructure within a demanding and rapidly changing environment.

    Jane Murdoch, Clinical Lecturer and Aaron Bradbury,  Senior Lecturer, University College Birmingham

    About Jane Murdoch (RGN, PGCE, FHEA): Jane has 30 years’ experience in healthcare delivery, is a Registered Nurse and Lecturer in health.

    About Aaron Bradbury (BA Hons, PGCE, Med, NPQICL, FHEA): Aaron has experience in Health and Social Care, Commissioning and is a Senior Lecturer in Social Care and Education.

    About University College Birmingham: Based in the heart of the UK’s biggest regional city, UCB is highly respected by employers and industry for providing career-focused education and training. UCB specialises in vocational courses in both the Higher Education and Further Education sectors with a growing portfolio of Apprenticeships.

    Most of our undergraduate degrees are accredited by the University of Birmingham, one of the world’s top ranked academic institutions, and our reputation for excellence means the University is a popular choice for international students, who join us from more than 60 countries. We are committed to providing the best facilities for all our students and are investing £100 million on a comprehensive package of improvements that will secure our reputation for excellence.

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