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The apprenticeship levy needs an urgent rethink to be effective

Ade Gachegua suggests changes to the apprenticeship levy to make it more responsive to the needs of the workforce

 

Meeting workforce development needs is complicated, not least because of the sheer number and diversity of roles in healthcare. Given its public and statutory status, healthcare faces greater funding and logistics challenges than comparable sectors. We can start to tackle these by reimagining our approach to higher-level apprenticeships.

The austerity message has been hammered home but with apprenticeship levy payments costing the NHS up to £200m, we urgently need to redirect funding to maximise value. Allowing greater flexibility in employers’ use of the levy to meet their workforce development needs won’t only increase fiscal efficiency, it would also help address higher-level skills gaps. We shouldn’t unwittingly penalise employees and employers with arbitrary on- or off-job requirements and complicated funding systems.

A case in point is the major challenge Trusts face in using the levy to upskill current healthcare employees. There is a gap between what employers and staff want, and the models of apprenticeships on offer. For example, there are issues with the successful progression of healthcare assistants (HCAs). Trusts that want to place an experienced HCA on a level 4/5 programme, such as the BTEC Higher National Certificate/Diploma, may only be able to enter them on a level 2 or 3 course/apprenticeship, thereby delaying their formal progression and perhaps undervaluing their contribution, as well as hampering a key purpose of the apprenticeship strategy – promoting social mobility.

We need to use the levy to fund a more responsive apprenticeship programme with two strands. First, a tailored, sector-specific academic programme consisting of progressive literacy and numeracy, alongside ‘learning to learn’ skills for the many who may have been out of education for a while. This could help to ensure gaps in maths, English and academic skills are addressed in
a practical way that reflects the needs of the sector.

The second strand should be a technical education and training programme at a level suited to HCAs’ experience, which allows them to grow in, and beyond, their role.

The first programme could run longer and should feed the second – but shouldn’t hold HCAs back from getting, and being funded for, the right level of technical education and training, working to progress their careers and to receive the formal recognition they deserve.

Ade Gachegua is the higher education qualifications subject lead for health and social care at learning company Pearson