Apprenticeships vital to long-term plan delivery

by Steve Horler

18 September 2019

Partnership needed to maximise use of apprenticeships

NHS organisations are contributing an estimated £200m a year as part of the apprenticeship levy. However some suggest that a significant proportion of these levy contributions is going unused and could be lost under the 24 month ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ rule, the impacts of which became real from this summer.

This isn’t just a missed opportunity financially, but also means a missed opportunity for staff development and workforce planning.

There are, of course, reasons why NHS organisations are not fully using their levy funds. Getting the right apprenticeship programme and the right provider are key issues.  There are also fundamental questions about which members of staff should undertake an apprenticeship.

The impact of 20% off-the-job training can appear as a counterweight to drawing down on the levy fund, especially coupled with the fact that levy funds cannot be used to cover backfill staff costs. And there are more general issues about awareness and communication between the centre and organisations and between departments.

However, there is consensus that to meet the ambitious improvements set out within the NHS long-term plan, it is essential to attract more people to work in the NHS and to develop and upskill the healthcare system’s workforce. The apprenticeship levy offers a great way to do this, but it needs to be done in a strategic way.

Delivering rewarding apprenticeships will require human resources, finance, relevant departments and senior leadership to all engage with each other. And with the right approach, the opportunities from apprenticeships can really be harnessed for almost all employees from school leavers, experienced existing staff all the way to the chief executive.

Picking the right programmes with the right providers is crucial to delivering apprenticeships that help develop, reward and retain staff. Apprenticeships can also be a great tool for increasing diversity in the workforce by developing staff who may otherwise miss the opportunity to progress and allowing staff to develop in areas that are new to them.

There is a plethora of opportunities available, not just the well-used nursing and other clinical programmes but in support functions areas such as accounting, operations, procurement, human resources and digital. And if there isn’t a relevant programme that already exists, employers can create one by forming their own trailblazer for the job role as required.

To help healthcare employers best use their levy, the HFMA has been working with a number of providers and professional bodies to design apprenticeships that bring together all the best elements of current programmes and enriches them for a healthcare environment.

Our programmes have embedded healthcare relevant content that can be accessed on demand online – allowing learners to progress their apprenticeship at a pace and timeline that works for them. The learners are supported by HFMA skills coaches, who bring a healthcare background to give valuable insight and guidance to the learner every step of their apprenticeship journey. Our first apprenticeship programme is the accountancy level 4 programme, which will be starting in January 2020.

The potential for NHS bodies to permanently lose access to levy funds that have already been contributed provides an extra time pressure for the service. But in reality, with workforce development crucial to the delivery of the long-term plan, apprenticeships should already be top of organisations’ agendas.

Find out more about the HFMA apprenticeship programme and register your interest by emailing

Upcoming webinar: How HFMA can help your organisation utilise the apprenticeship levy, 23 September 2019 at 12:30 - register now