In 2019 Hywel Dda University Health Board took a bold step to start an Apprenticeship Academy. This was partly in response to the increasing financial costs of using agency staff to make up for the shortfall in employed Adult General Nurses. It was also, however, in recognition of the opportunity that the University Health Board had, as an anchor institution, to improve opportunities and well-being in its local area.
Recruitment had been a long-standing problem. There is no nursing college in the local area and those that have studied elsewhere, and begun to make lives for themselves, often prefer to find work in the same place. Recruitment from within local communities has therefore been a challenge, as even those students originating from the UHB area may not always choose to return once qualified. The UHB was also conscious that recruitment practices that simply attracted staff from other health board areas would just create problems elsewhere. A programme that could nurture and develop skills amongst the existing local population was seen as a more pragmatic, sustainable approach and one that would fit with the UHB’s values. The Apprenticeship Academy was therefore born.
The initial apprenticeship programme included two pathways: Healthcare and Patient Experience. This has already expanded to include many other pathways including areas as diverse as Engineering and Corporate Governance. The Healthcare Apprentice Programme, however, which can develop individuals from entry level to Nurse registration within seven years, remains its flagship. Its aim is to develop a future nursing workforce through targeted skills development, working with local employment organisations, educational institutions and youth organisations to promote and tailor apprenticeship opportunities.
The establishment of the Academy has, of course, faced challenges, not least in the unprecedented number of applications and onboarding of apprentices. In 2021 alone there were over 600 applicants, with only 40 places on offer. The high standard of applicants, however, did provide the UHB with confidence to increase the places on offer to 57.
A secondary challenge was integrating the apprenticeship programme within the culture and working practices of a large, established workforce. To help navigate this, a ‘Reverse Mentoring’ scheme was put in place that has allowed apprentices to share their experiences and ideas through providing mentoring and guidance to members of the Health Board. Apprentices were also invited, with the Board’s support, to present at the 2021 Nursing and Midwifery conference, in recognition of their achievements. This gave members of the apprenticeship programme another opportunity to share learning first hand with those that might also find themselves working with apprentices, or even be thinking of starting programmes themselves.
One example of the value that this programme has brought was highlighted when the Academy Team was able to offer additional support to the Directors responsible for the staffing and implementation of Mass Vaccination Centres throughout the Health Board area. Andrew Cavill (Job title) explains that the 2021 apprentices “have stepped up and stepped forward to support the vaccination effort, undertaking additional training to offer immunisation and administrative support to patients across all counties”.
The programme has also contributed to wider and longer-term benefits. The Academy has a principle of not taking on an apprentice unless there is a job available for that person at the end of the apprenticeship programme. This has encouraged services to look at their future staffing needs and start to plan early for how these can be met. On this basis, 100 apprentices have already been taken on with a pledge to deliver 1,000 apprenticeships by 2030 – an ambition that will not only grow local job opportunities but help to provide better health care, training, skills and well-being in the local foundational economy.