'How Career Colleges can help solve the healthcare sector skills crisis'

TES Opinion


Ruth Gilbert, CEO of the Career Colleges Trust, writes:

There is no doubt that the health and care industry is facing a skills crisis, and shortages are well documented. With A&E departments stretched to breaking point and the needs of our ageing population putting more pressure on the system, many jobs are needed in this sector over the next 10 years.

In fact, the Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR) estimates that by 2022, nearly three million more health and care workers will be needed to look after people in hospitals, care homes and the community.

With 10 per cent of the current workforce set to retire within the next ten years, we must consider where the next generation of health and care workers is going to come from.

I worry that this issue is not being sufficiently addressed by the education and funding bodies, the very organisations that are given responsibility for identifying where the skills and training needs lie.

For example, recently the Heart of South West LEP did not prioritise a funding bid from Yeovil College and Yeovil District Hospital who are extremely keen to set up a Career College specialising in the health and care industry.

Career Colleges, launched by Lord Baker in late 2013 are employer-led institutions that provide 14-19 olds with high quality, vocational and technical education, alongside rigorous teaching in core, academic subjects. Local industry demand is key for Career College, with the idea being that local and national employers can ensure they have a highly skilled, future workforce to meet their business needs.

Like many other regions, the South West urgently needs healthcare workers over the next few years, and Yeovil’s plans are fully backed by the local NHS Trust. In fact, this Trust has already put a project manager in place to lead the development work, demonstrating its commitment to recruiting staff trained through the Career College.

So why on earth is the local LEP turning down a funding bid for a project that will not only offer young people an innovative, work-led education programme but that is also backed by the region’s largest employer?

The LEP’s response was that it does not deem Health & Social Care as Stem, so therefore Yeovil’s proposed project is not a priority.

This is the wrong decision on many levels. Yeovil’s Career College would be led by the healthcare industry for the healthcare industry. It will help meet the acute skills gap in Yeovil and serve as a beacon of best practice to roll out across the U.K. Many other health and social care practices (including care in the community) are getting on board with this proposed venture.

So, I am now urging the Skills Minister to review even part funding for this £5m project, to increase professional training for nurses and other healthcare professionals, as part of a national development programme. We can’t ignore the impending skills crisis in this sector and I very much hope the government can support this crucial venture.

This is not to say that the government isn’t investing in certain healthcare projects. For example, last year the University Hospital Southampton helped to secure £1.96 million of funding from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills through its partnership with the National Skills Academy (NSA) for Health to help develop national training and education centres.

The cash boost is part of the government’s new Employer Ownership of Skills Pilot (EOP) fund – and certainly tackles skills once people are at work. What it doesn’t do however is address the need for a ‘pipeline’ of skilled young people, who need encouragement to pursue careers in the health and social care sector, by being offered first-class training.

Crucially, young people need to be made aware of the huge variety of career options that come under the healthcare umbrella - from care workers and nursing auxiliaries to paramedics, dental technicians and dispensing opticians. Many different jobs, to suit many different levels.

Career Colleges create a line of sight to work for young people, offering great career opportunities and progression. Failure to provide such choices and pathways at 14 can result in students choosing options at school that limit their career options later.

Recruitment issues in both this industry and many others are not going to go away. I want to see a network of health and social care Career Colleges around the country, to ensure we have an adequately skilled workforce to plug some of the severe skills shortages this industry faces.

John Evans, principal of Yeovil College, is passionate about the potential for the Career College to raise aspiration in young people with the insight, knowledge, sector specific and interpersonal skills needed to start employment, continue into HE or start higher apprenticeships in health or health and social care.

He knows the forward-thinking project will benefit not just the local community in Yeovil, but the whole health sector nationally.

The Career Colleges Trust will continue to do everything in its power to ensure that projects addressing skills shortages, like the one being proposed by Yeovil, get off the ground. We simply can’t afford not to.

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