Why the care sector should embrace apprenticeship opportunities

8th Mar 2019

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Key government reforms to apprenticeship funding and frameworks were introduced in 2017. They prompted many companies to abandon their commitment to apprenticeships, but Heathcotes Group believe that employers can embrace the changes to their own advantage. Director of Operations, Tracy Johnson,  explains…

From May 2017, the way apprenticeships are financed changed significantly with two new funding models. Employers with a payroll of over £3 million are now required to pay an Apprenticeship Levy which amounts to 0.5% of their payroll bill. Non-levy paying employers have access to a co-funding arrangement. Each standard has a funding cap and the Skills Funding Agency pays up to that capped price.

The Apprenticeship Levy is paid into a Digital Apprenticeship Service (DAS) account which employers can access to fund apprenticeship learning and find a range of approved training resources. The government tops the Levy fee up by 10% and the employer pays the full cost for any subsequent apprenticeship until the Levy funds run out. After that, the employer pays 10% towards any apprenticeship and the government pays the remainder.

The Apprenticeship Levy has increased the initial cost of apprenticeships for larger organisations and many have responded by scaling down their apprenticeship schemes or dropping them completely. However, in Heathcotes’ view the ideal training model for care apprenticeships is closely aligned with the Apprenticeship Levy funding model and the resources it provides via the DAS. However it is funded, the key to successful apprenticeship outcomes is a policy which communicates, demonstrates and invests in a commitment to long-term professional development.

Social care remains the largest apprenticeship framework, but the care sector also has an average staff turnover rate which is problematically high. Low staff turnover is desirable in most industries, but especially so in the care sector as continuity is extremely beneficial for many service users. In our experience the best way to lower staff turnover is to find potential apprentices with the right personal qualities for care work and plan a work-based, structured learning formula which teaches the necessary skills to do their job well and progress through Levels of Qualification.

Heathcotes find that when management shows a commitment to targeting and planning clearly defined career objectives, the apprentice often feels empowered and encouraged to achieve them. In an age of zero-hours contracts,  when widespread job insecurity is especially acute amongst school leavers, many young apprentices respond well to the opportunity when they can see a career pathway mapped out to help them achieve their goals. This enthusiasm has a positive effect on the standard of their work and the experience of the service user.  Problems with staff retention tend to arise when employees see their job in isolation with no reliable route to progression beyond the next pay slip.

Although the Apprenticeship Levy requires an initial investment from employers, they can reap the benefits of that investment in the longer term with ongoing learning programmes expertly organised by approved training and assessment providers registered on the DAS. With the benefit of these types of programmes, apprentices can become loyal employees who are steeped in the organisation’s values - unlike external appointments that are recruited mid-career and bring values derived elsewhere – and many have the potential to become the next generation of management with invaluable first-hand experience of the personal dynamic between carer and service user. Recruitment can be a time consuming and costly process, so higher staff retention and progression eliminates much of the time and money spent on finding replacements (particularly at more senior levels).

The arrival of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) in 2018 has given training providers greater flexibility in tailoring programmes to individual needs and it also increases focus on the quality of qualifications. We believe that this focus can also benefit staff retention – in our experience, care workers who feel that they are receiving properly structured, high quality learning and development feel valued and supported as a result, which makes them more likely to remain with their employer.

One of Heathcotes’ key apprenticeship policies is the completion of the Care Certificate during the induction period. The Care Certificate is often seen as a staging post which recognises the completion of the first phase of learning – awarded after three of more months of training – but we see it as a starting point, providing a vital foundation which informs and shapes much of the work-based learning that follows. Establishing this foundation is part of a wider training model developed with assistance from our approved training partners, Learning Unlimited and Chesterfield College. It has enabled us to improve retention and progression. We are proud to say that many of our management staff are ‘home grown’ from entry level: 64% of our Registered Managers, 75% or our Senior Managers/Regional Managers and 100% of our Heads of Services.

All of Heathcotes’ senior management team have progressed with the company from entry level. I started out as a 16-year-old support worker, so my own experience from leaving school has given me an appreciation of the value of care apprenticeships and carefully structured learning for career progression. Apprenticeships make up 13% of Heathcotes’ workforce.  The percentage of our apprentices progressing into full-time employment at the end of their apprenticeship is 10% above the overall achievement rate for the sector.

The care sector often talks about ‘quality of outcomes’ but the term is usually applied to service users.  In other words, care providers rightly pay close attention to their service users’ journey towards the achievement of a more independent life, but afford less attention to their employees’ journey towards the achievement of career goals. It is important to recognise that these two strands are often closely related – investing in the latter can benefit the former.

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