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.
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.
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.
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, 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.