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Wednesday, 08 March 2017

Engage: Bright future for social services apprenticeships

Written by Anna Fowlie

As Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) Chief Executive Anna Fowlie speaks at the Future of Apprenticeships in Scotland conference in Edinburgh today, here she tells us why the Scottish Government’s approach to the apprenticeship levy is a big leap forward for social care...

When I first heard about the UK Government’s plans for an apprenticeship levy I was sceptical about its benefits to social service employers and I am still concerned about the financial impact on services. However, the proposals for how it will work in Scotland announced by Jamie Hepburn, the Minister for Employability and Training, in January have given me hope.

The SSSC is and always has been an advocate of the power of apprenticeships in supporting and developing learning across the wide range of jobs in social services and healthcare. We also understand that mobility and transferability of qualifications are important to a growing sector. That is why the SSSC and our UK partners have put employers at the centre when developing both the underpinning standards and the subsequent qualifications that make up the apprenticeship family. We have also made sure there are core competences across the range of Foundation and Modern Apprenticeships irrespective of the level an individual works at.

Scotland has at last recognised that the care sector, particularly childcare, is a central plank of our country’s infrastructure and needs investment. So the £25m funding for early years recruitment and training is to be welcomed. Given the current expansion of childcare provision, there needs to be long-term investment in the workforce, including childminders, to make sure we can meet the needs of children and their families. Foundation and Modern Apprenticeships will play a valuable part in that and I hope Graduate Apprenticeships will soon be available.

The SSSC has long been calling for more investment in apprenticeships for people over 25, so I’m particularly pleased to see that finally happening. Social care in particular attracts and needs people who are returning to work after a break or changing careers and we also have lots of people in the existing workforce who would benefit from consolidating, developing and accrediting their skills. Modern Apprenticeships are a great way to do that.

I’m delighted that every part of Scotland is now offering Foundation Apprenticeships in health and social care and in early learning and childcare and the Minister’s commitment to increasing the numbers is heartening. The Foundation Apprenticeship provides a fantastic opportunity in the senior phase of secondary school for our brightest and best young people to have opportunities to work with older people, vulnerable adults and young children. It’s important that this qualification is at Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level 6 and I thank Skills Development Scotland for developing a product that gives a lie to the crude perception that ‘care is easy’ and for the ‘not so bright’. To do a Foundation Apprenticeship alongside Highers is giving the right message and in support of this the SSSC will be ensuring that all Schools of Social Work in Scotland’s universities understand and value these early experiences in their admissions policy.

Some young people may not choose to pursue a career in care in the longer term, but having done the apprenticeship they will have had an opportunity to understand what it is to work with people and to develop key skills of communication, empathy and working with others. The fact they have two years of workplace practice means they have had to sustain interest, relationships and learning over this time. The fact they get a nationally recognised qualification that is accepted by universities across Scotland is another bonus however more important is that it can help the young person make a career choice from a place of better understanding.

Many of the young people who do a Foundation Apprenticeship will go on to do a Modern Apprenticeship. This seamless transition provides the sector with a better informed future workforce where care work has been a conscious decision and not something they have drifted into; it gives a real career pathway.

Childcare has provided us with a really powerful story and we now have a seamless pathway from the Foundation Apprenticeship into the Modern Apprenticeship at SCQF level 7 and then on to the degree in childhood practice. Not bad for a sector that until 10 years ago was thought of as having no career opportunities.

Hopefully in the not too distant future we will have a Graduate Level Apprenticeship in the social services that could provide the bridge that’s needed for good integrated social services and healthcare in Scotland. The opportunity to combine learning with practice and the discipline of continually reflecting on practice is the best way to grow confident, skilled and knowledgeable workers.

Modern Apprenticeships are probably now at a crossroads in their design. The worker of the future will need other skills, particularly in using technology without losing the skills of communication, empathy and kindness. Technology may well transform services but I hope it will also free up time for the interpersonal elements of care that only human interaction can give. I believe Modern Apprenticeships could provide a perfect opportunity for developing the seemingly polarised elements of cutting edge technology sitting alongside humans and the way they interact with others.

Finally, Mr Hepburn has ended the divisive funding rules which disadvantaged the public sector. The public sector employs 30% of the Scottish social service workforce and in our remote and rural communities the majority work in the public sector so this will make a significant difference. Our services not only support people who are disadvantaged, they also attract people from diverse backgrounds and need to do that more. So it’s great to see specific funding to support disabled people, people with care experience and those working in rural areas to help tackle some of the particular challenges they face.

At the SSSC we look forward to being part of the vanguard that helps this Scottish approach to transforming and supporting apprenticeships for years to come.

About the Author

Anna Fowlie is Chief Executive of the SSSC, a role she has had since 2009. Prior to this she worked for the Scottish Government, leading a team focused on improving outcomes for looked-after children.

Anna was writing in the SSSC news website which you can follow here: . You can also follow Anna on twitter here: