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Introduction of the apprenticeship levy

Introduction of the apprenticeship levy

Government led changes to apprenticeships and a UK target to create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 have resulted in the introduction of the apprenticeship levy and creation of many new apprenticeships in nursing and health care. These range from support worker roles to advanced clinical practitioner.  

The system is still embedding and evolving, creating challenges for executive and very senior nurses with responsibility for workforce planning.  Achieving safe staffing based on best available evidence in the context of shortages of registered nurses; NMC changes to registered nurse education; removal of the bursary in England and reducing CPD funding is a major challenge.  Getting the balance between maximising use of the levy whilst developing new education programmes to prepare the future workforce is no easy task.

Issues arising from the introduction of apprenticeships include tension between being both a learner and being ‘in the numbers’. We have become accustomed to students as supernumerary and supporting staff to adapt to work based learners, as well as supernumerary students which requires thinking differently about capacity, supervisor and assessor roles and staff development needed.

Affordability is related to this. Whilst apprentices are employees and paid a salary, there needs to be appropriate opportunities for learning and placements. The NMC are currently consulting on the Nursing Associate and the RCN is undertaking their own consultation with members. Whilst this role applies in England, the consultation provides an opportunity to engage in a wider debate about future models of practice based learning, supernumerary status and protected time.

Apprenticeships do provide a career pathway. This enhances opportunities to recruit and develop local people, strengthen relationships with the local community and potentially increase retention.  A number of areas have established collaborations to recruit to health care support worker, assistant practitioner or nursing associate training programmes with explicit progression to registered nurse available. However it remains to be seen if the pathways produce the anticipated outcomes. 

Getting accurate data on apprenticeships is difficult at the moment but the NMC have shared that they have 15 nursing degree apprenticeship programmes approved, with 15 more potentially in the pipeline.

See the RCN publication Left to Chance for further information on workforce.


Elaine Whitby
Professional Learning & Development Facilitator


Gary Kirwan
National Officer & Team Leader