Apprenticeships: what you need to know

Angelo Varetto from Skills for Health answers some frequently asked questions about apprenticeships.

What are apprenticeships and how do they relate to nursing and midwifery?

An apprenticeship is a job that includes training. It enables someone to develop and demonstrate the knowledge, skills and behaviours they need to perform effectively in a particular occupation which is defined by an apprenticeship standard. Apprentices have a contract of employment and are employees of the organisation which takes them on. At the outset, both apprentice and employer sign an apprenticeship agreement, which identifies the occupation for which the apprentice is being trained and confirms the standard the apprentice is following.

RN aprentices complete the same nursing degree as nursing students    Picture: iStock

Apprenticeships must last a minimum of 12 months, with 20% structured off-the-job training which helps them develop competence in an occupation before an endpoint assessment. There are apprenticeship standards for registered nurses (RN), nursing associates, assistant practitioners, senior healthcare support workers and healthcare support workers (HSW).

Apprenticeship standards are developed by employers and where the standard is for an occupation regulated by statute, it will mirror the regulatory requirements relating to skills, knowledge, behaviours and education requirements.

What other types of healthcare apprenticeships are there?

There are many healthcare apprenticeship standards that have been approved and are in development. Find out more here.

How do apprenticeships differ from traditional nurse education?

RN apprentices complete the same degree in nursing as nursing students, awarded by a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)-accredited education institution which allows access to the NMC register.

Why do people choose to apply for a nursing apprenticeship rather than a university-based nursing education programme?

There are real benefits to being an apprentice rather than being a student. Apprentices have their tuition fees paid by the employer, earn a wage while they complete their training and, as an employee, will get to know their employer and the employer will get to know them. This should help when they apply for a job as an RN at the end of the apprenticeship.

Apprentices are also quite likely to come from the existing workforce of nursing support workers, if they meet the entry requirements for the degree. Many employers want to support career progression and will try to give existing workers the opportunity where they can. From an employer’s perspective, apprenticeships are a significant investment and they will want this to go to people they know so they can be confident of getting a return on that investment.

There will be some downsides, for example apprentices are not entitled to some of the benefits that students get, and it is very likely that employers will expect their apprentices to stay on as RNs on completion. But overall, an apprenticeship is a very attractive package, compared with taking out a student loan. 

How much do apprenticeships cost?

Approved apprenticeship standards are allocated funding bands by the Institute for Apprenticeships. The funding band for the registered nurse apprenticeship is band 15, which is £27,000. This is the maximum contribution the government will make to the cost of an apprenticeship. For healthcare professional education, there is top-up funding from Higher Education Funding Council for England, as the degrees cost more than the maximum bursary or loan. The top-up remains in place when the degree is undertaken as part of an apprenticeship. 

How long does an apprenticeship take?

The length of an apprenticeship varies depending on several factors. All apprenticeship standards must state the typical duration, but the length will depend on recognition of prior learning.

What does the apprenticeship route to a nursing qualification offer senior nurses and their organisation?

Apprenticeships offer a clear career and education pathway from healthcare support worker at level 2 to registered nurse at level 6. This includes ‘step off’ occupations, such as nursing associate or assistant practitioner at level 5 and senior HSW at level 3. This is the ‘grow your own’ opportunity that many senior nursing staff have wanted for years.

What funding is available to support apprenticeships?

Funding of apprenticeships is complicated. NHS Employers have produced a factsheet The Apprenticeship Levy: How it Will Work for organisations that pay the apprenticeship levy. Government guidance is available for non-levy-paying employers. 

Which organisations are obliged to take on apprentices?

Public sector employers, including the NHS, are required to comply with public sector apprenticeship targets. The government has published statutory guidance on the Public Sector Apprenticeship Targets Regulations 2017 which were made under powers conferred by the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. The statutory guidance states that: ‘Prescribed groups and public sector bodies with 250 or more staff in England have a target to employ an average of at least 2.3% of their staff as new apprentices over the period of 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2021.’

As a manager, how can I prepare my team to support apprentices?

Preparation depends on which apprentices you are employing. Many nursing teams already include apprentices in roles such as healthcare support worker, senior healthcare support worker or assistant practitioner. In future, it is likely that teams will also include nursing associate apprentices.

For RN apprentices, there are some slight differences from other apprenticeship roles, where apprentices are also part of the funded establishment. RN apprentices must be supernumerary for their practice learning hours. Employers can engage RN apprentices as HSWs or other roles, but this employment is separate from their apprenticeship and requires a separate contract. As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring the two roles are not blurred and the apprentice should not be expected to undertake activities they would not be allowed to do as a nursing student at the same point in their training, or be included in staffing numbers. If the RN apprentice is also employed as an HSW, you may wish to consider that, where possible, they do not undertake a practice placement in their usual working area.

Angelo Varetto is head of national occupational standards, qualifications, and apprenticeships at Skills for Health

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