Apprentices in the NHS

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2017 Health Care Service Group Conference
16 December 2016

Conference notes that the apprenticeship levy and the adoption of targets by the four country administrations will drive an upsurge of apprenticeships in the NHS.

The imperative for NHS organisations to recoup the money they are now required to pay into the levy means that apprenticeships will become a major means of training and developing existing staff, and hiring new staff.

Conference welcomes UNISON’s work to expose the wide variation of very low pay rates used by NHS employers when hiring staff as apprentices. Conference also welcomes UNISON’s detailed negotiators’ guide covering pay and conditions, and how the union can support and organise apprentices. UNISON’s work has helped push this issue up the agenda of the NHS Staff Council.

Conference supports the use of high quality apprenticeships in the NHS, and welcomes their potential as a means of bringing into the NHS a more diverse workforce, with greater opportunities for disadvantaged groups.

However, Conference is concerned about the effects of the levy, the NHS funding crisis, and the imposition of targets on employers for apprenticeship starts. This combination could lead some employers to view apprenticeships as a means of replacing existing posts with a source of cheap labour. This is a particular danger as many employers currently fail to negotiate or consult with Staff Sides on pay and conditions for apprentices, and continue to employ them on non- Agenda for Change terms.

Conference believes that apprenticeships in the NHS should be a beacon of quality able to compete with gold standard apprenticeships elsewhere in the economy. But that will not be achieved by continuing to pay rates as low as £3.40 an hour to apprentices who are fulfilling valuable roles providing or supporting delivery of patient care.

Conference calls on the Service Group Executive to:

1)Continue to promote UNISON’s negotiating guidance to branches and organising staff including offering briefings and updates via regional and service group structures.

2)Seek agreement via the Staff Council on a comprehensive nationally agreed Agenda for Change framework for apprentice pay and conditions.

3)Monitor the impact of the levy and targets for apprenticeship starts, on staffing and on resources available for wider training and continuing development.

4)Seek opportunities to represent UNISON members’ views by participating in initiatives to develop new apprenticeships in a variety of occupational groups.

5)Work with UNISON’s Learning and Organising Services to ensure that branches, including union learning reps, are supported to recruit and organise apprentices.