Level 6 (degree) apprenticeship standard for public health practitioners

By Claire Cotter, Workforce Development Programme Manager, Public Health England
Claire Cotter is a Programme Manager in the National Workforce Development team at Public Health England (PHE). Claire was recruited by PHE in July 2014 to lead on the review and re-design of the Public Health Skills and Knowledge Framework (published in November 2016), and the development of a digital version of the Framework (working title: skills passport). Work on both of these is ongoing. Claire took on the apprenticeship work in January 2017.

Building on a government commissioned independent review of apprenticeships in 2012 (the Richard Review), the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published its vision for English apprenticeships for 2020 (2015), with an ambition to ‘increase the quality and quantity of apprenticeships in England, reaching three million starts in 2020’.

To prevent misuse of the term apprenticeship, and to promote the rigour of the new apprenticeship brand, the title ‘apprenticeship’ has become a legally protected title, through the governments Enterprise Act 2016, clearly defining what an apprenticeship is, and is not. To provide governance and quality regulation the government has created a new and independent Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA), formed on 1st April 2017.

The new vision places employers firmly in the driving seat as those best placed to understand the skills, knowledge and behaviours required of the workforce of the future. The re-defining of apprenticeships extends the scope to degree-level to include professional occupations. The new standards must include transferable skills to support the apprentice in their mobility across sectors, employers and jobs, enabling them to progress their careers and longer-term prospects. This sits very neatly with our aspirations for the public health workforce in England, as outlined in the 2016 PHE report ‘Fit for the Future: public health people’.

To explore the potential further, PHE facilitated a workshop in May 2017 to test employer demand for the development of apprenticeship standards for public health roles. At public health practitioner level we have nationally agreed professional standards which define competence or ‘fitness to practice’. This helps to define what an apprentice practitioner would look like when they are ‘job ready’. The knowledge requirement for practitioners is at level 6* and there are an increasing number of BSc Public Health degree programmes being developed by universities across the country. With the revised Public Health Skills and Knowledge Framework (2016), we also have an up-to-date national benchmark marking out the unique aspects of practice for people in public health, helping us to define public health as an occupation. As these things are already in place, we agreed at the workshop to develop a practitioner level standard.

So where have we got to?

During 2017 PHE surveyed more employers across England to establish levels of interest, and convened a working group of over 40 organisations, including NHS Acute Trusts; NHS Community Trusts; Community Interest Companies (CICs); Social Enterprises (SEs); Local Authorities; Public Health England; Health Education England; and around a dozen universities. Lead public health agencies are engaged and we also welcome our colleagues from other UK nations to these meetings.

With the support of Health Education England and Skills for Health, and our assigned relationships manager at the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA), we submitted an Expression of Interest (EOI) for a degree standard for the occupation of Public Health Practitioner. The EOI was approved in December which means that we can now focus on the development of the standard and start to define the detail around the apprenticeships journey.

The employer Trailblazer Group, which is chaired by Fiona Harris, Consultant in Public Health at the Royal Borough of Greenwich, will continue to convene monthly to shape the standard and work towards making it ready for delivery. There is a national workshop for employers on 20th February 2018 in London and those employers or training providers not already engaged are welcome to sign up HERE.

Some local authority public health teams in England are already creating ways to employ apprentices, drawn to the appeal of offering new development opportunities to younger or disadvantaged workers; or the opportunity to develop workers from other parts of their organisation in a bid to ‘grow their own’, while re-investing in their local workforce. At the moment, these employers do not have a public health specific standard to work to, and are using generic standards instead eg: level 3 business administration. We have more work to do to develop standards for public health at level 3 or 4, starting with the need to establish employer demand. If anyone has any interest in this, or would like to know more about the apprenticeships work, please contact us via sp-phskf@phe.gov.uk

* degree level – see qualifications levels, and for Scotland HERE