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Grow your own social workers

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The opportunity to develop new degree apprenticeship routes into social work is to be welcomed, so long as these additional pathways do not minimise the profession's academic and research base – a concern expressed by some commentators.

Importantly, such a route must ensure that candidates achieve the required standard set by the universities awarding the degrees and also by the profession’s regulatory body.

To explain the virtues of apprenticeships, for both employees and employers, I am pleased to host a guest blog from Dr Sarah Vicary, a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, who has been closely involved in the developmental work.

    Dr Sarah Vicary

Sarah: There’s a lot to be said for on the job education and training – not least because the benefits work both ways, for employer as well as employee. Indeed, since April this year, this approach has been incentivised by the Government as it encourages medium to large scale employers to dedicate funds to degree apprenticeship schemes for new and existing staff.

Organisations operating in the UK with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million are now being charged a compulsory levy of 0.5 per cent of their wage bill. Employers in England can use this to fund new degree apprenticeships. Better still, the Government will top up these funds by a further 10 per cent.

Identifying the potential in your workforce and investing in their development makes them feel valued. This in turn increases their motivation, improves job satisfaction, nurtures a greater sense of loyalty and most importantly, supports improvement in practice and outcomes for the people they serve.

This may all seem obvious, but now – if you’re an employer of applicable scale – you’ve got some ring-fenced funds to help your colleagues enhance their careers and your business’s performance.

In fact, it may surprise you that over two thirds of professionals would take a lower salary in return for sponsorship of a recognised qualification, according to a survey from CV Library.

Helping colleagues to upskill and reskill whilst in work is an effective and proactive way to address critical skills gaps and prepare them for future roles and challenges. Even if an employee has a degree in one discipline, they could still benefit by gaining new knowledge and skills through a degree apprenticeship.

Developing a social work degree apprenticeship

So, how does this relate to social work? A trailblazing group of social worker employers in England has applied to the government to approve a social work integrated degree apprenticeship standard.

    Jane Hanrahan

Led by Jane Hanrahan, Learning and Development Manager, Norfolk County Council, the scheme they propose would offer a route into the profession for experienced care staff who may not have academic backgrounds. If accepted, it is hoped that hidden talents will be unearthed and a higher performing workforce will be the result.

Supported by Skills for Care, the group’s submission outlines the practice knowledge, skills and behaviours required by a competent social worker. They hope to get approval from government on the design by December 2017.

       Peter Barron

Peter Barron, Project Manager for Standards, Learning Qualifications and Apprenticeships at Skills for Care, explains that the group is made up of “volunteers from all over the country."

He adds: "Mostly employed by local authorities, they come from a variety of children’s and adult services backgrounds, and include principal social workers and learning and development managers.”

What does a degree apprenticeship involve?

It is expected that it will typically take 36 months to complete a degree apprenticeship. The apprentice social workers would be paid from day one, and undergo a mixture of on- and off-the-job training. It is a requirement that at least 20 per cent of an apprenticeship should be off-the-job education and training, but what this is and how it is completed would be decided by the local authority and the learning provider.

Learning providers are likely to be universities who will work with local authorities on apprenticeships. Their apprenticeship degree needs to be validated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the regulatory body for social work in England. The learning providers must also be on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers and Register of Apprentice Assessment Organisations.

After an assessment at the end of the apprenticeship, apprentice social workers would gain a university degree and attain the same professional status as those who qualify through other routes.

Top tips to get ahead

  • Visit the GOV.UK apprenticeship hub 
  • Find out all about the Skills Funding Agency’s Apprenticeship Service. If you already have apprenticeship programmes up and running in your organisation, then you will need to calculate the amount of apprenticeship levy you will be liable to pay and see how this fits against the budget you have already allocated to apprenticeships.
  • Use The Open University apprenticeship levy calculator for an indication of how much funding you will receive from your levy contributions.
  • Talk to The Open University. We can help you manage the different aspects of maximising degree apprenticeships in your organisation, so you’re not just spending the levy but you’re implementing apprenticeships in a meaningful way.

There are many ways you can upskill and reskill your existing workforce and we can help you identify those opportunities. If it’s good for your colleagues, it’s good for your business!

About the author

Dr Sarah Vicary is a senior lecturer for The Open University and leads on the social work degree in the North West and Yorkshire.

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  1. Comment by Margaret Aitken posted on

    What about Scotland?

  2. Comment by Elaine atkinson OBE posted on

    What about doing the same for Nursing ?
    The old SEN' S gave Earn and Learn opportunities for the less academic person with a desire to nurse. The wards also had a constant supply of Student nurses on them. It would not be a retro step but would actually give career options for non degree entrants and an opportunity to have an opportunity to later study to become a higher level nurse. If we don't develop & offer career pathways across health & Social care, we risk losing people with genuine caring skills to check out operators or administrators where they will earn more, have less responsibility and not fund tuition fees to enter a sector where salary levels are capped.

    • Replies to Elaine atkinson OBE>

      Comment by Lyn Romeo posted on

      The new nursing degree apprenticeship, starting from September 2017, will open up more opportunities to train as a nurse for those already working in the NHS or those for whom full-time university study is not a realistic option.

      Dependent on previous qualifications and experience, it will take aspiring health care workers and aspiring nurses from a Care Certificate to Registered Nurse. The nursing degree apprenticeship will be a Level 6 (BA Hons or BSc Degree) qualification and typically a 4 year apprenticeship programme.

      Those successful in securing an apprenticeship will undertake part-time study to pass their nursing degree before becoming a registered nurse, benefiting from the practical work of a job on a ward at the same time as well as protected clinical placement learning.

      The Government is working with employers and approved Higher Education Institutes to offer the first nursing degree apprenticeships from September 2017. Although we expect modest numbers initially, numbers will grow as this route becomes more established.

  3. Comment by Regina posted on

    How can I join the next social worker apprenticeships

    • Replies to Regina>

      Comment by Mark Osterloh posted on

      Hi Regina

      Thanks for getting in touch. Please click on the links in the 'Top tips to get ahead' section of the blog post. Use the GOV.UK link to find apprenticeship schemes in your area and/or contact the Open University for more information.

      Best wishes

      Blog site editor


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