Apprenticeships in the Health Service

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2009 Health Care Service Group Conference
17 April 2009

Conference welcomes the Department of Health’s increasing commitment to Apprenticeships, recognising that these provide a further means of attracting young people into the health workforce as well as providing existing staff in pay bands 1 to 4 with a new high quality opportunity to develop themselves and to progress in their careers.

Apprenticeships are an important opportunity to bring new, particularly young, workers into employment, while providing essential skills and development. Having increased the number of apprenticeships, the Government has committed itself to 400,000 Apprentices in England by 2020. The Government had already indicated that there would be a significant role for the public sector within that, and with the current financial climate the reliance on the public sector to deliver apprenticeships is likely to increase.

This Conference believes that the development of apprenticeships in the NHS should be used as a career development tool. Apprentices should be directly employed on Agenda for Change (AfC) terms and conditions with their development governed through Annex U of the AfC handbook and the Knowledge and Skills Framework (KSF).

As a major national employer, the NHS should have a key role to play in delivering this important agenda. Currently only 2.6% of NHS employees aged 16-24 are participating in an apprenticeship, compared with a public sector average of 3% and a private sector average of 4.9%. As well as helping young people gain skills (and others with increases in apprenticeships for over 25’s), apprenticeships could be an important tool to bring new staff into the NHS particularly in areas were there are skills shortages currently.

Conference recognises that this is an initiative for the health service in England but would support similar initiatives in the NHS in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Conference calls on the SGE to work with the Department of Health and NHS Employers to highlight the importance of developing apprenticeships within the NHS and to look at ways that good quality apprenticeships can be promoted within the NHS. Conference further calls on the SGE to work with the relevant sector committees to consider developing proposals for national schemes (or models) within the NHS to address particular workforce issues.

Conference also supports the specific commitment given by Lord Darzi in the Next Stage Review High Quality Workforce Paper to double the investment that Department of Health makes in Apprenticeships in the health sector and welcomes full trade union involvement in the Apprenticeship Steering Group to help shape and implement an apprenticeship strategy for health, which benefits our members

In supporting the joint work on apprenticeships commissioned by DH and operationally led by Skills for Health UNISON has a number of concerns and objectives which include:

a)Ensuring that the social partnership model agreed at the national level for taking forward this work is replicated by staff side, employer and other partners at the regional and workplace levels;

b)Ensuring that a proportion of the new resources to be made available from DH between 2009-2013 to promote apprenticeship growth are deployed to support unions’ specific capacity building (around new frameworks, for example) and the awareness raising and training needs of branches, Union Learning Representatives and full time union officers, so they can play their full part in making a successful apprenticeship growth strategy happen on the ground;

c)Extending the apprenticeship strategy to include members working for independent, private and 3rd sector providers of support services to health;

d)Ensuring that unions are part of a joint apprenticeship employer/staff side ambassador’s network, designed to promote the benefits of apprenticeships across the range of health organisations;

e)Ensuring that trade unions are fully involved through the partnership model in the design of new apprenticeship frameworks to suit the needs of existing adult support staff, such as medical secretaries, cleaning staff, therapy and health care assistants etc and should include mechanisms for advice and support at local level for trade union representatives who are involved in apprenticeship programmes.

f)Apprenticeship frameworks should be able to take into account the skills and qualifications already held by existing staff to avoid the repetition of training and assessment.

g)Ensure that apprenticeships are introduced in ways which challenge job segregation, that is encourage particularly females to consider entering non-traditional occupations, as well as encourage a proportionate uptake of apprenticeships by BME, disabled and other disadvantaged communities;

h)Ensure that apprenticeships form part of clear progression pathways into Foundation Degrees and other higher awards, and by agreement with professional and regulatory bodies ensure that apprenticeships enable seamless and rapid entry into pre-registration training;

i)Ensure that with due regard to Annex U of Agenda for Change that young people undertaking an apprenticeship are paid attractive and competitive rates of pay, (and that these are not below the current minimum wage rates applicable), and that existing staff undertaking an apprenticeship are not paid less than their current salary;

j)Ensuring that most apprenticeships are fully employed, rather than on a college based apprenticeship with work placements, since the quality of the employed apprenticeship is likely to be higher, with a greater chance of a job on completion.

Conference calls on the SGE to:

(i)investigate the current position of apprentices within the NHS to include the number and nature of schemes and the terms and conditions of these workers;

(ii) (through the NHS Staff Council where appropriate) issue guidance on the terms and conditions for apprentices within the NHS to supplement the bargaining guide.

(iii)encourage all branches to actively recruit apprentices into UNISON.

Conference is asked to support this approach and requests a report of progress at next year’s Conference.