How effective learning and development can help the health and care sector

The health and care sector is a demanding one, especially with rising service demands, a growing elderly population, rising costs and increasing health concerns. With added strain, alongside the constant need to develop and enhance the healthcare systems in place, investing in the people who work for your healthcare facility is a crucial step in the right direction for struggling practices

In this article, Stephanie West, head of School of Health and Care Management at Arden University explores the role degree apprenticeships have to play in strengthening the skills of the future generation of health and care leaders.

Upskilling for talent retention and diversity
Retaining staff has never been more important – especially for the health and care sector. On top of this, there is a growing need for organisations to maintain a diverse leadership team, especially for the betterment of those they service, as well as the organisation itself. A patient’s culture and background will not only affect whether and where they seek care, but it may impact the types of conditions they may be more prone to, as well as their own understanding of medical information and how they make health care decisions. This pushes the need for better diversity at the top level to fully understand the system changes needed to meet the needs of the organisation and patients.

Unfortunately, diverse representation still remains proportionally low when it comes to the more senior positions. This is an ongoing issue that many organisations are trying to solve to make their senior leadership roles more representative of their overall workforce and those they look after. One way to solve the retention problem is by developing and training existing teams, so they can gain the accreditations needed for such management and leadership roles. Not only will they know the particular problems their facility will need to solve, but they will also be working up to a more senior position – allowing them to make the decisions they think are best for the practice itself.

Preparing to enhance your healthcare system
System leadership skills are now key for many health and care facilities to survive while looking after those they care for, so when looking to upskill staff in the sector, there must be a focus on systems thinking and core management skills throughout.
However, given the unique challenges the health and care sector often faces, suitable upskilling opportunities are typically hard to find. For instance, programmes need to be designed to enable cultural change, leadership development and maximise system effectiveness. However, that’s a big ask, so how can it be done?
Research has found that health and care employees are best prepared to do their jobs well if they have comprehensive information, clear learning opportunities, feedback along the way to build their confidence, support to innovate and develop new and improved ways of providing patient care and trust in their supervisors and leaders.
Apprenticeship degrees are often underutilised in the sector, but they are a very effective solution to offer all of this and more, helping to upskill staff while simultaneously looking after practice needs. There are bespoke apprenticeship courses, such as the Level 7 Senior Leader Apprenticeship (Health & Care) plus Executive MBA (CMI) now offered by Arden University, which have been designed specifically for health and care professionals, including those working within NHS Trusts, social care, primary care, private clinics, charitable sectors, wider health professions and local councils. As well as Senior Leader programmes, other apprenticeship degrees, such as the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship (CMDA), are ideal for preparing staff for their first management role within an organisation. However, a lot of the programmes available to develop these skills, as well as provide a recognised chartered management qualification, are not health and care focused.
Such apprenticeship programmes can drive collaborative working across organisation and sector boundaries, by covering topics such as strategy, leading teams and organisations, financial management and managing digital transformation. Senior Leader Apprenticeships also equip health and care employees with both a strong skillset and mindset that reflect the sector’s current and future needs.
Undergraduate degree apprenticeships, such as the CMDA, also allow the health and care sector to support current staff members who may not be ready to gain an MBA or postgraduate level qualification and give them a chance to achieve a university-level qualification. This option opens doors for those who are passionate about working in health and care management but do not have the time, money, or opportunity to commit to attending university full time, and as a result, this will hopefully contribute to levelling out the lack of diversity found in leadership roles.
Health and care facilities can also use their apprenticeship levy to fund apprenticeship degrees to support with retaining staff and improving diversity in leadership. This makes it an easy and accessible option for not only progressing individuals’ careers but also for strengthening all health and care organisations, regardless of service or size. With apprenticeships, the courses are free for the learner, as the employer pays for them through apprenticeship funding, opening opportunities for a more diverse range of staff.
However, as health and care is a demanding industry, degrees also need to be flexible when supporting staff. The courses offered by Arden University, for instance, are completed entirely remotely to ensure they suit employers and employees and fit around their working and home lives – again opening accessibility to close the gap in diversity, especially in leadership health and care roles.
With the health and care sector constantly needing to improve and develop the services it offers patients in an ageing, diverse population, looking to upskill staff is a key component for many facilities across the UK. Apprenticeship degrees can be the key to unlocking this – allowing professionals to keep working and looking after their patients, while simultaneously upskilling to make systematic changes for a more robust future for the next generations.