From education to employment

Creating the workforce of the future – A new collaborative approach for the NHS and colleges in England

From the immediate effects of the coronavirus pandemic to the continued focus on climate change and the future of the country post Brexit, there are common challenges facing both colleges and the health and care sector.

How do we build the health and care workforce needed now and in future?

How will people live, learn and work?

How can we work collaboratively as anchor institutions to support local communities?

The NHS, as Europe’s biggest employer, is in many ways a priority litmus test for the Commission’s work and a natural sector to focus on. There are partnerships forming and examples of good practice that can be built upon as we look to the future, which can be seen in the case studies in this report.

This joint report with NHS Confederation is based on contributions from and conversations with leaders from both sectors in England and addresses how together, we can:

  1. Create the healthcare workforce of the future by better making the case for colleges
  2. Build strategic and collaborative relationships between colleges and employers that embrace a culture of system partnership and learning
  3. Recognise the power of place-based leadership of anchor institutions to support the wider health and prosperity of our communities

Key recommendations

Create a new, collaborative vision for the future of colleges in health and care driven by employer hubs

To turbocharge greater college collaboration and develop a coherent and navigable interface for NHS organisations, we recommend that the Department for Education and Department of Health and Social Care fund the piloting of seven health and care employer hubs for two years. Building on where colleges are collaborating already, we believe this would require £5 million in central funding. These hubs would support the health and care sector to unlock the potential of colleges by providing an integrated service that convenes and coordinates colleges and collectively recruits, upskills and retrains in communities. This dedicated team would enable a coordinated approach to the NHS workforce strategy for colleges (and the wider education system), develop clear pathways and progression routes, coordinate college workforce Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and drive collaboration on public health strategies.

Embed the role of colleges in support of the NHS People Plan

To best maximise the contribution of colleges in securing its future workforce, NHS England and NHS Improvement should seek to ensure that this critical relationship underpins the NHS People Plan, including the specific commitment to deliver 50,000 more nurses. In delivering the People Plan, a consistent framework should be established to support regions and integrated care systems in England to develop a coherent approach to bringing the college voice into strategic system workforce plans and the newly established People Boards. As part of this approach, integrated care systems (ICSs) should prioritise support for local NHS organisations to develop place-led anchor relationships with their respective colleges.

Create a new voice for English colleges – the Health and Care College Council

To empower colleges to contribute to the prevailing health and care workforce conversation and strategic planning with greater impact, we are calling for colleges to create a national council to promote, develop and embed the essential contribution of colleges in education and training pipelines in England. Such a council will act as a national interface for colleges to coordinate both with the health and care sectors and across the education and skills system, influence policy and regulation, share research and best practice, and set guiding principles for collaboration.

What opportunities are there in the other nations in the UK?

While this report focusses on England, the Commission will explore opportunities for taking forward the themes in this report in the context of the four nations.

Marie-Thérèse McGivern, Commissioner and Former Principal and Chief Executive of Belfast Metropolitan College, said:


“The core recommendations of this report have real potential alignment in Northern Ireland. Whilst the health service is deliver through Health Trusts (overseen by the Department for Health), the relationship with colleges is mixed and not consistent. The curriculum hubs model in Northern Ireland has already seen success in social care, and this model could be a starting point for supporting the health sector too.”

David Jones OBE DL, Commissioner and former Chief Executive of Coleg Cambria, said:

“Colleges are the solution to addressing so many of the skills challenges facing the health and social care services in Wales. In moving towards a bold post compulsory education and training sector that builds on the fantastic work of our colleges and their work with other training and skills providers and partners, it is clear that colleges could and should be doing more to support these critical sectors. These are unique opportunities in the systems and structures we have in Wales, and the publication of this report on the English NHS provides a useful opportunity to reflect on practice and ideas in other jurisdictions. I hope this will begin to develop this Autumn.” 

Jon Buglass, Vice Principal, Edinburgh College, said:

“As we look to the future of colleges in Scotland, the health and social care sector must be a priority. Collaboration across the full skills pipeline – with schools, colleges and universities – is needed in order to create the agile and inclusive tertiary system needed to support this critical sector. At Edinburgh College we are approaching key partners in this sector and across education and skills to collaborate with to achieve our ambition of meeting the skills needs to keep our population healthy. The recommendations for England in this report provide helpful ways to think about supporting our engagement with the NHS in Scotland. We look forward to continuing the conversation.”

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