Doing more with apprenticeships


Lucy Rowe, Young Persons and Diversity Lead from NHS England National Estates and Facilities workforce team, and Fay Lane, Apprenticeship Manager at Health Education England (HEE), joined this month’s meeting of HEFMA’s National Council on July 12 to provide an update on the work being done around apprenticeships to develop the NHS estates and facilities (E&F) workforce of the future. 

This was a candid and open discussion, which acknowledged there is much work to be done and went on to outline initiatives and programmes so far. There is a determination that E&F staff and roles will be recognised with an equal voice to that of other NHS roles, and a new, more detailed national NHS Long Term Workforce Plan is in the pipeline. The Estates & Facilities Workforce Action Plan, published on June 15, links very closely with the NHS People Plan, and the fact it was endorsed at the highest level is seen as an encouraging start. A national webinar is planned for July 20, which will be the chance for E&F leads to ask questions and explore the finer detail of this plan.

The continuing ageing profile of E&F staff is concerning. Data points to an ongoing need to attract people under 25 into NHS E&F roles. Apprenticeships are seen as a vital part of future workforce planning for E&F roles, for those starting on their careers and those seeking further development. However, at the moment, only some 2 - 3% of apprenticeship starts in the NHS are in areas related to E&F and our workforce is not consistently accessing available funding through the apprenticeship levy. 

NHSE and HEE have recently begun to work together to change this. The first initiative to be announced is the launch of the Apprenticeship Challenge, which sets the target for NHS employers and wholly owned subsidiaries to create 1,000 new apprenticeship starts in E&F roles. To help support this, NHSE and HEE have developed an Apprenticeship Toolkit to demonstrate the different apprenticeships that are available for a multitude of roles and which breaks down the barriers around accessing the apprenticeship levy and funding the salary.

Through a vacancy portal, a national snapshot of available apprenticeships is created every month and circulated to DWP, careers advisors, schools and careers engagement teams and enterprise partnerships to raise the profile of E&F apprenticeships.

A strategic partnership with online recruitment specialist is underway. As well as boosting the visibility of NHS vacancies, this initiative is helping to provide valuable advice on making them more attractive and appealing to job seekers. A talent attraction master class led by a recruitment expert from has resulted in some interesting learning on this, which is shared as a recording through the NHS Estates Team Collaboration Hub - NHS Estates and Facilities ( This involved a detailed analysis of recent adverts for NHS E&F vacancies, generating some key insight and advice, including: 

• Many NHS job adverts are too long

• Make an impact in the first 50 words as job seekers using mobile devices to access vacancy posts will not read much further

• Keep terminology simple and understandable for all - candidates from outside the NHS will not be familiar with NHS-specific acronyms or jargon

• Think about job titles/descriptions in vacancy posts - the word most frequently used on searches on by people looking for cleaning roles is ‘cleaner’

• Utilise social media and local networks where possible to reach and attract young people. 

Another new initiative just launched by HEE is the E&F Job Family page on its HASO (Healthcare Apprenticeships Standards Online) website. The HASO site is packed with information about apprenticeships, including case studies and how to write a business case. The job family concept groups together all apprenticeships and possible career pathways in a format that allows users to click through.


Retention of staff

This is also a major issue about which much more needs to be done. Work is beginning, focusing on selling the benefits of working within the NHS more effectively and providing clearer career development, which includes plugging the current skills gaps. Lucy invited everyone to share with her and colleagues at NHSE any insights on where those gaps may be. 

Examples where work is currently being focused include the training of estates officers, to give them the broad-based knowledge they need following promotion in a standardised format. Identifying an existing degree apprenticeship that is closely aligned and may be adapted to include bespoke NHS content is a focus here, and it is hoped that an education provider may be procured by the end of this year. A conversation is now starting to identify other areas where embedding bespoke NHS Estates and facilities elements within apprenticeships could be a useful approach.


Other resources

Skills for Life has also partnered with HEE to provide Basic and Key Skills Builder Training with free access to English, maths and digital skills training. This can help candidates to meet the minimum English and maths requirements for an apprenticeship, and help others to gain more confidence over their digital capabilities.

Publicised through the regular communications updates from NHSE on this website, the Edward Jenner programme is a leadership academy which is fully-funded and available to develop existing staff. The academy ran in May with 85 participants from estates, including a good cohort of Band 3 and 4 staff. Although this is an established programme, awareness among E&F remains low. Feedback is now being evaluated and will continued to be shared in order to encourage uptake of this and other NHS leadership Academy programmes within the E&F workforce.

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