Why increasing numbers of young people are becoming care apprentices | Social care network | Guardian Professional

When Hannah Langridge began her public sector career at 17, she became one of the first adult social care apprentices employed by Hertfordshire county council. Six years on, Langridge has worked her way up to become a council commissioner, buying packages of care for adults with physical disabilities and older people.

“The apprenticeship was one of the best things that I have ever done,” Langridge says. “The whole experience was brilliant because I am a people person and it meant that I could learn on the job. It allowed me to acquire the knowledge and gain experience at the same time. The apprenticeship is such a great base to start from and it makes you employable right from the beginning.”

A record number of young people are choosing the apprenticeship route to launch a career in adult social care. Last year 40,000 apprentices joined the programme, double the number the previous year, making it the second most popular destination for apprentices behind customer services. Skills for Care, the skills council for the sector, estimates that in the next five years apprentice numbers could double again.

Young people are taking the apprenticeship option because it offers a work-based route to learning with a more defined career path that may not have existed in the past. At the same time, they are guaranteed a weekly allowance which at least matches the minimum wage. Eva Juskova, 26, is just finishing her level 3 apprenticeship and works as a care assistant at Hendra House, a residential home for 28 older people in Ludlow, Shropshire. She says: “Apprenticeships give you knowledge and the training and you can build your career on that.”

Nearly half of the support staff at Hendra House have completed apprenticeships because its owner, Vince Birmingham, sees the programme as an opportunity to “grow his own” while guaranteeing staff are trained to deliver high-quality care. Although his apprentices have been between 18 and 59, he says younger trainees bring a fresh perspective to the workplace. “They bring new ideas and don’t have a stereotypical idea of what care is about. They are aware of technology and I know without them we wouldn’t have thought about using the Wii with our residents.” Hertfordshire county council’s apprenticeship programme for adult social care began seven years ago, and is now a core part of its workforce strategy and nearly all trainees stay on after qualification.

These young apprentices bring a new dynamic to the workplace, according to Sarah Pickup, director of adult care services and vice-president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. “They bring a new energy and a different age mix into the workforce,” she says. “Our younger service users like it and the older service users like to have young people around.”

Birmingham also believes that the apprenticeship scheme, which he sees as a partnership between the employer, training provider and apprentice, helps improve quality of care. “At our last but one inspection under the old system, we were rated excellent in all seven key indicators. We are recognised as the best care business in Shropshire and the best employer in the West Midlands.”

Pickup agrees that the programme can help boost standards, but adds: “This is not about something which is all bad and these apprentices will make a miraculous difference. But they are being trained to treat people with dignity right from the start, they understand about self-directed support and that service users have rights; none of this is new to them and they are learning a lot of that from existing staff as well. What it does mean though is that we are bringing young people through and giving them a good grounding … to do the job effectively.”

The head of apprenticeships at Skills for Care, Sue Smith, is also confident that apprenticeships drive up standards. “I think that the whole qualifications and curriculum framework and the discipline which contributes to that, pushes up standards,” she says. The strong apprenticeship brand and government backing for the programme also helps.

“Apprenticeships now have a much stronger brand and older people using the service say they feel reassured [about their level of care] because by becoming an apprentice they believe that the young person has taken a serious career route,” she adds.

The expansion of young people in adult care services comes as the sector expects to see its workforce grow by 65%, up to 2.6 million by 2025, because of an increasing older population. Pickup says it is one of the few economic growth areas for young people where entry does not require a degree.

Smith says young people are critical to the sector’s future workforce needs: “They are crucial – and if we don’t offer an attractive message they will go elsewhere.”

This article is published by Guardian Professional. Join the social care network to receive regular emails and exclusive offers.

Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

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