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by Geraldine Taggart-Jeewa
7 February 2012

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The value of apprenticeships

This week (6-10 February) is National Apprenticeship Week. Geraldine Taggart-Jeewa, a member of the Practice Management Network steering group, says the experience of employing a general practice apprentice provided mutual benefits and highlighted a key training gap…

It is apprenticeship week and many of the local media publications are advertising the benefits of taking on an apprentice. It has been six months since we took the plunge and decided to embark on the challenge of taking on an apprentice. It has been a very interesting experience.

Six months ago one of our receptionists left and this provided the opportunity to consider our skill mix and roles within the team. As a training practice we had experience of training both future doctors and practice nurses, and had supported the admin team in gaining NVQ qualifications.

It was with that in mind we decided to employ an apprentice. We contacted one of the organisations that provide apprenticeship opportunities and they took much of the hassle of recruitment of my busy shoulders. The beauty of this is that they will screen the applicants and only send those for interview that they believe are suitable for the post.

It has been said that apprenticeships are beginning to be recognised as the gold standard for work-based training. There are three types of apprenticeships: Intermediate, Advanced and Higher. We decided to employ a school leaver working towards an Intermediate Level NVQ 2 in Customer Services. We have been pleasantly surprised and delighted that our apprentice has completed her NVQ 2 in six months.

One of the other obvious benefits is that we have been able to stretch our staffing budget further, since the rate of pay for an apprentice is £2.60 per hour.

This meant that we were able to increase the amount of hours in total of our admin team, as apprentices work full-time while our receptionist had worked part-time. Practices are free to pay more and indeed we choose to do so but as long as the post is a recognised apprenticeship position then the minimum wage rules do not apply.

What we did not anticipate is that our apprentice, who would admit that she had no interest in a clinical role, has been inspired working with us to become a nurse. This means that we will extend her apprenticeship for a second year, so she will study for an NVQ3 in healthcare, qualifying as a clinical receptionist.

Undergoing this process has highlighted to me a gap that exists in nurse training. I for one would like to see a programme that trains our future nurses from apprenticeship to degree via a general practice route.

If we want future receptionists, admin staff and indeed nurses to have the necessary skills to meet the increasing demands of the public and the necessity to provide excellent customer and clinical services in primary care then it seems to me that a great way to start would be to have excellent general practice apprenticeships.

On a final note, our apprentice tells me that when she told her friends she was going to do an apprenticeship they all thought it was a bad idea and that she would regret it. Six months later, they are asking if they can have an apprenticeship in our practice!

Geraldine is Managing Partner/Business Director at North Meols Medical Centre and is Joint Honorary Secretary of the Family Doctor Association.

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