Lucy Hunte, National Programme Manager, Apprenticeships Talent for Care, Health Education England (HEE)

The old adage "bad news sells" is clearly the case with the EDSK Runaway Training think tank report. Why did this negative piece of work make the mainstream media and yet the majority of the good news stories on apprenticeships don’t?

On Monday 10th February I was invited to be part of the panel at an event hosted by University of Derby chaired by Patrick Tucker and I was joined by Lord Young on a panel with the author of the report Tom Richmond to challenge some of the report’s findings.

Over 70 new health specific apprenticeship standards

Health Education England (HEE) have facilitated the development of over 70 new health specific apprenticeship standards to support our workforce needs and have also been involved in many other cross sector standards such as the L2 Business Administration and L7 Senior People Professional.

None of these are fake and all have been borne out of employer demand to be able to train the NHS workforce particularly in areas where we have critical shortages. I took particular umbrage to the report’s assumptions that universities are mis-labelling training courses as ‘apprenticeships’ when this is simply not the case.

All of our new degree apprenticeships have been painstakingly developed as part of the Trailblazer process and under the scrutiny of the IfA so it is not a case of rebadging traditional degrees as an apprenticeship.

There are over 100 HEI’s currently on the register approved to deliver apprenticeships and we have been working closely with them to support this transition.

Fantastic social mobility

The report states, “For the apprenticeship levy to be used up on university degrees that can already be funded through the student loan system is hugely wasteful”

This is ludicrous! From a candidate’s perspective why would they take out student loans and get £50,000 into debt with no guarantee of a job at the end when they could do a degree apprenticeship? From an employer’s viewpoint why would we not use our £200 million levy pot to fund these programmes and attract new talent into the NHS?

It is a well-publicised fact that the NHS have 40,000 nursing vacancies so the Nursing Degree Apprenticeship was developed to offer another route to professional registration to address this issue. Similarly, we now have degree apprenticeships in Radiography, Paramedic, Sonography, Occupational Therapy and Speech & Language therapist – all professions on the government’s shortage occupation list so please explain how these are “fake apprenticeships”?

The degree apprenticeships in the NHS are also often being taken up by individuals who do not have the means to undertake a non-apprenticeship degree and this route is now offering them this fantastic opportunity.

Apprenticeships offer a ladder of opportunity to the top, not 'dead end' jobs

The recommendation in the report that the Department for Education should restrict the use of the term ‘apprenticeship’ to training at Level 3 only is absolutely absurd. In the NHS we have developed career pathways from Level 2 to Level 7 and a L2 apprenticeship is a vital entry route into all sectors.

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The lobbying for the IfA to approve a L2 Business Administration standard continues as there are real concerns from across the sector around the impact on widening participation if this popular framework is removed with no suitable replacement.

To date over 50,000 learners have utilised the framework and feedback from their employers is that the vast majority would not be able to undertake the L3 as they do not have the required levels of Maths and English but also because the entry level job roles do not offer the supervisory elements required by the apprenticeship standard.

Often the applicants for a L2 apprenticeship need additional support in the workplace to adapt to the world of work and raising the entry to L3 only will have a huge impact on social mobility and supporting these people into work and future careers.

At the University of Derby event Mr Richmond particularly referenced a major fast food retailer and their advert for a “fake” L2 Hospitality Apprenticeship!

He clearly doesn’t understand that working in the hospitality sector is unfortunately not the first career aspiration for the majority of the UK’s population, but the apprenticeship route now offers progression and a structured career pathway from team member to team leader and ultimately store manager. Surely this is a positive thing?

Rather than “dead end” jobs these programmes offer great opportunities in some of the most deprived communities.

Also, I am sure this particular retailer’s training provider who have been consistently rated as Good by Ofsted who would resent the implication that they are not delivering a high-quality programme!

#LookBeyond - Raising the profile of apprenticeships

The use of the word fake is particularly damaging as so much work has been done on raising the profile of apprenticeships, and several providers and employers at the Derby event said they had been contacted by concerned apprentices and parents asking if their apprenticeship programmes were indeed fake!

If we want parity of esteem for apprenticeships, then we all need to be aware that the constant negativity is damaging and will have an impact on uptake from employer’s and potential apprentices alike.

The report took particular aim at management apprenticeships and again clearly doesn’t understand how they are being implemented. In the NHS for example we have excellent Nurses promoted into management roles with no previous management experience so why would we not utilise the apprenticeship standards to ensure they have the knowledge, skills and behaviours required for their new roles?

Also the L7 Senior Leader is being successfully used to train the next generation of NHS Leaders and feedback has been that when you have a Senior Manager on an apprenticeship programme they become ambassadors for their organisations and ensure that they are fully embracing the apprenticeship levy and maximise all opportunities to attract new recruits and to develop existing staff.

It also includes the L3 Senior Healthcare Support Worker and Level 5 Assistant Practitioner as an example of professional development being rebadged as an apprenticeship, but these standards were developed to offer a career pathway to Registered Nurse and improve retention in the NHS!

What the report also fails to realise is that we also have the public sector target to achieve which equates to 28,500 apprenticeships. In 18/19 we achieved 82% across the NHS which was 23,428 starts. Many Trusts have fully spent their levy and many more are on track to do so I would question his assertion that the levy is “broken”.

Next time I suggest EDSK talk to the vast number of employers successfully using apprenticeships across all sectors and don’t undermine the brand we have worked so hard to build.

Lucy Hunte, National Programme Manager, Apprenticeships Talent for Care, Health Education England (HEE)

Listen to FE News chat with Lucy Hunte, National Programme Manager, Apprenticeships Talent for Care, with Health Education England about scaling Apprenticeship and T Level delivery at #EPALive in Wembley:

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