The largest employment sector in Shropshire, with almost 24,000 people employed across the county, it is an area which is experiencing major skills shortages at all levels.
Placements, as offered via the Ladder for Shropshire apprenticeship scheme, could be a major part of meeting that need.
Clair Schafer of the Marches Skills Provider Network, a partner in the Ladder for Shropshire, said: “The sector has been reviewing the apprenticeship structure as part of the apprenticeship reforms and exciting new opportunities are now developing which will enable people to enter the profession and progress through to high level careers such as nursing.
“There are a variety of career paths available through apprenticeships which include clinical health care, being offered by our hospitals and medical practices, social care, available in residential and domiciliary care settings, dental nursing as well as more specific occupations.
She added: “The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital Trust is in the initial stages of putting a structure in place to support their specialist field of musculo-skeletal treatments.
“This plan will involve apprentices working towards qualifications such as senior healthcare – therapy support level 3, with the potential to progress on to healthcare – assistant practitioner level 5 and possibly nursing degree apprenticeships.
“The development of nursing degree apprenticeships is being led in Shropshire by Staffordshire University. This vocational structure is so exciting because it now provides a continuous vocational route for new entrants and with a shortage of nurses this is important to help to address the problem. It is early days yet but it is hoped that other major hospitals will also begin to offer this training.
“Shannon Philips has just started down this route and is currently training on the paediatric ward undertaking an apprenticeship in clinical healthcare support with the aim of becoming a nurse.
“Social care needs people to be trained to work in settings such as adults with learning disabilities, care of the elderly and domiciliary care working to help people to be able to stay in their own homes. These are such important job roles helping people who are disabled or infirm to maintain a good quality of life.”
Mandy Thorn, managing director of Marches Care, which owns the Uplands Care Home at Bicton Heath in Shrewsbury, said apprenticeships are growing in importance.
“The sector is expanding,” she said. “Health and social care is vital, with social care in particular essential to keeping the NHS running – social care in England has more beds and more people working for it than the NHS, so it’s important that it functions well with properly trained staff.
“In Shropshire we need more people to work in the sector. People with more complex needs who used to be looked after in hospitals are now looked after in their own homes or in nursing homes.
“In my own organisation we use apprentices and have seven or eight at the moment. Those people are vital to the future of our business and our sector.”
She said that the centre uses a training partner to deliver apprenticeships at a variety of levels, backed by Shropshire Partners In Care, and that apprentices are paid a wage that matches the job they do rather than a basic apprentice wage.
She added: “You have to want to work in the sector, or to work with people.
“It’s important for people to understand that there are so many career opportunities in this sector. An apprenticeship in health and social care is very much an opening into a much wider range of job opportunities.”
Christopher Greenough, of Ladder for Shropshire partner Salop Design & Engineering, said: “‘The healthcare sector is of vital importance to the region, we need to make sure we have the skills and labour to keep supporting.
“With Brexit on the horizon, and the free movement of people and skills not a given, we need to look to skills and training provision to make sure our services can continue. Apprenticeships are key to all sectors, but vitally important in this sector.
“Apprenticeships allow mentors to pass on life-long knowledge, and for the student to learn from the best. A vocational route is key where a sector needs skills now and in the future.”