Barchester Healthcare’s apprenticeships scheme for care workers

Barchester Healthcare's commitment to apprenticeships is paying off with lower than average staff turnover and, now, a national award. Sally Gillen reports

Barchester Healthcare’s commitment to apprenticeships is paying off with lower than average staff turnover and, now, a national award. Sally Gillen reports

When Barchester Healthcare was given a national award for its apprenticeship scheme earlier this year, Skills for Care described its win as a “breakthrough” for adult social care. The company, a provider of care homes across the UK and an employer of 25,000 people, beat, among others, the Army and Navy to the National Employer Service prize.

Barchester began running apprenticeships in-house on a small scale eight years ago because of concerns over the variation in quality of training offered by colleges.

Today it is developing 1,000 people on schemes and all employees are offered the opportunity to do an apprenticeship in health and social care, or other areas including maintenance and catering.

With a 93% achievement rate, Barchester’s success is indisputable.

Research carried out by Populus for the Learning and Skills Council in 2008 found that 80% of employers believed that apprenticeships helped them reduce staff turnover and 88% thought it had led to a more motivated and satisfied workforce.

Terry Tucker, director of learning, development and hospitality, says this reflects Barchester’s experience.

Although overall staff turnover for Barchester is 23%, for those on apprenticeships the figure is 13%, well below the care sector average.


Tucker links a reduction in the number of complaints by residents and increased staff satisfaction to the training and development opportunities offered through apprenticeships.

While the company has invested “many, many millions” in developing its staff, says Tucker, like other employers it is assisted by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), which has responsibility for apprenticeships in England. The NAS meets all the training costs for 16- to 18-year-olds and half for those aged 19 and over.

Apprenticeships comprise three elements: an NVQ level 2 (or level 3 for people taking an advanced apprenticeship); a technical certificate, a qualification that provides the technical knowledge underpinning the practical NVQ; and key skills that are transferable across industries, such as communication. Employers can also request that apprentices undertake additional training in an area such as first aid to ensure they develop skills matched to the needs of the job.

Barchester, which has more than 200 care homes for older people, those with autism and people with brain injury, is keen to make social care an attractive career for young people.

“We are trying to encourage more 16-year-olds,” Tucker says. “We have just over 300 in the company. Until a year ago we weren’t able to employ 16-year-olds to deliver personal care but the Care Quality Commission changed the rules. Some 16-year-olds are fantastic at caring for older people. The person is important, as opposed to the age.”

She says that relaxing the rule is welcome because in the past Barchester and other employers in the care sector have lost young people to other job markets. Not that it is always easy to promote a career in care to younger people. Tucker admits they sometimes come up against negative attitudes among career advisers, who believe that caring for older people is not a job for a young person or that the traditional training routes, such as further education colleges, offer a better opportunity to develop skills than apprenticeships.

Work experience

“Many think that further education is better but we offer very good education,” says Tucker. “People do not appreciate the rigour of our education programme and the fact we’re regulated by Ofsted.” Connexions, Jobcentre Plus and school visits are all used to promote working for the company and 14-year-olds are offered work experience.

Tucker adds: “We encourage people to go on to other sorts of training, including nursing education or, if they are chefs, to go to a big hotel. We don’t want to lose them. But even if they only stay with us while they are learning it still reduces our turnover rates. Apprentices offer a significant return on investment.”

Apprenticeships in the adult social care sector are increasingly popular. Figures from Skills for Care show that the number of people who completed the full apprenticeship framework shot up to 5,025 from January to October 2009, a 65% rise on the same period in 2008.

Meanwhile, Barchester is looking forward to adding another award to its collection at the National Apprenticeship Awards next week.

More on apprenticeships from

Case study

SUE BURROUGHS Trainer and carer, Hampshire

Sue Burroughs is a lead senior carer and home trainer at Challoner House in Hampshire and has worked there since 1997 in a series of roles.

She completed an advanced apprenticeship in health and social care over nine months in 2009. Last month, she was shortlisted as apprentice of the year in an awards scheme run by Barchester.

“This has well and truly helped my career progression and I’m so proud I completed it.”

Besides an NVQ level 3 and a technical certificate, her apprenticeship involved developing key skills in healthcare, such as how to calculate body mass index.

She says one of the advantages of doing a work-based apprenticeship, rather than doing a college course, is the guidance and support you are offered and the access you have to your assessor.

Published in the 8 July 2010 issue of Community Care under the heading ‘The tie that binds’






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