Covid-19: Can colleges help close the NHS skills gap?

Colleges should introduce a health and care council to promote, develop and embed the contribution of colleges in health and care training, says new report

Kate Parker

The challenges facing apprenticeships in education and other public sector areas have been laid bare in a new report

Colleges across England must collaborate with the NHS and government to support more than a million people into health and social care careers, a new report has said. 

The report – published today by the College Commission of the Future and the NHS Confederation – highlights that currently in England, the NHS is operating with over 90,000 vacancies. This is set to increase due to the pressures of the Coronavirus pandemic. In order to meet the demand, 1.3 million people will need to enter health and social care jobs by 2033-34, the report said. 

It recommends the introduction of a health and care college council, seven new health and care employer hubs and embedding the role of colleges in support of the NHS People Plan.


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In the report’s foreword, Amanda Melton, chief executive of Nelson and Colne College and Commissioner on the College Commission of the Future, and Lord Victor Adebowale, chair of the NHS Confederation, say that “colleges can, and must, play a central role in supporting this in every community”.

They add: “[Colleges] already play a leading role in upskilling, reskilling and recruiting the health and care workforce and are embedded in their communities. They also play a core role in addressing the wider determinants of health through the education and upskilling they offer, thus improving life chances and opportunity. 

“Yet despite this, the role and contribution of colleges within the education and skills system, and specifically in the minds of large employers such as the NHS and social care, is all too often poorly understood.

“It is vitally important that we restate the case for the wealth of skills and access to new health and care workforce that colleges offer, both as a route to university and, crucially, in their own right. Many of the roles colleges provide training for are being increasingly recognised and valued through the pandemic, raising the profile of our key workers.”

The recommendations in full 

Health and care employment hubs 

The report says the government should create a new, collaborative vision for the future of colleges in health and care driven by seven employer hubs. These hubs would cost £5m for a two-year pilot and build on college collaboration currently ongoing. The hubs would “unlock the potential of colleges” by providing an integrated service that coordinates colleges and collectively recruits, upskills and retrains in communities. 

The NHS People Plan 

NHS England and NHS Improvement should establish a “consistent framework” to support regions and integrated care systems to bring the college voice into strategic workforce plans and People Boards, the report says.

It adds: “As part of this approach, ICSs should prioritise support for local NHS organisations to develop place-led anchor relationships with their respective colleges.”

A health and care college council 

The report says colleges should create a national council to “promote, develop and embed the essential contribution of colleges in education and training pipelines in England”. 

The council would act as a “national interface for colleges to coordinate both with the health and care sectors and across the education and skills system, influence policy and regulation, share research and best practice, and set guiding principles for collaboration. “

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Kate Parker

Kate Parker is a FE reporter.

Find me on Twitter @KateeParker

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