Robert Halfon MP: We must rocket-boost apprenticeship programmes in the NHS
After raising the issue in the Commons last week, Chair of the Education Select Committee, Robert Halfon MP, writes on the importance of nursing apprenticeships for PoliticsHome.
Social justice and productivity are the twin themes of the Education Committee and last week in Parliament I raised an issue that is key to both.
We have a skills shortage in many sectors and at the same time apprenticeships are not growing fast enough. In the healthcare profession, there is one way we can square the circle and that is by dramatically expanding the number of nursing apprenticeships – at both degree level and below.
I am a passionate advocate of degree apprenticeships, which should be seen as the jewel in the crown of technical education that allow people to earn as they learn and climb the ladder of opportunity.
Young people are currently being pushed towards traditional degrees but only just over half are getting jobs after graduation that require such a qualification. More should be done to promote the alternative approach of degree apprenticeships.
In nursing, applications to undergraduate courses in England fell last year by almost a quarter and 585 fewer students started nursing degrees in September compared with the previous year. This drop in numbers wanting to enter the profession comes after changes to the funding system which means eligible students are funded through the standard support system rather than the NHS Bursary scheme.
Nursing degree apprenticeships offer an alternative to those put off by the cost of pursuing the full university degree route. They offer an attractive route both for mature students and for those with children, ensuring that all those who wish to train as nurses have the opportunity to do so.
Nursing degree apprentices will not have to pay anything as they learn, and will be able to become degree-registered nurses in four years.
Despite the benefits, an astonishingly low figure of just 30 people began training as a nurse through the nursing apprenticeship schemes this year. This figure needs to dramatically increase and we must rocket-boost apprenticeship programmes in the NHS.
A renewed focus on apprenticeships should not stop at degree level. We should also be expanding apprenticeships in healthcare professions from level 3 and encourage progression for those already working in the sector. The creation of the nursing associate role is welcome and will provide an additional step to help those healthcare assistants who want to become a registered nurse to reach their goal.
This is why there needs to be a striking shift in the way we promote nursing apprenticeships. We must unblock the road blocks and bureaucracy that stop people pursuing apprenticeships, so that thousands of people do so and not just 30.
There needs to be a taskforce involving the Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Health Ministers, the Institute for Apprenticeships and others to drive this forward.
A proper advertising campaign would encourage learners to go down the nursing apprenticeship route and this could be financed using funds from the apprenticeship levy.
The Education Committee has been examining both value for money in higher education and the quality of apprenticeships and skills training and we will be holding a one-off session in the next couple of weeks to explore how we can best train our next generation of nurses.
We hope the Government can help bring about a change in culture, so that apprenticeships are not seen as the inferior option to traditional courses.
The change must start in Whitehall, and only when it happens will we see nursing apprenticeships used to their full potential, contributing effectively to tackling the skills deficit and helping the most disadvantaged climb the ladder of opportunity.
Robert Halfon is Conservative MP for Harlow.