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Seven things you need to know about WELS apprenticeships

A student nurse takes notes on a clipboard while another nurse examines a patient in a hospital

This year marks the fifteenth annual National Apprenticeship Week, running from 7 – 13 February 2022. This year, we’ve pulled together seven things you need to know about the apprenticeships offered by the OU’s Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS) in England.


1. Our apprenticeships are helping to grow and develop the health and social care workforce

Since we began delivering nursing and social work programmes, over 2,000 nurses and 6,000 social workers have qualified with us. With our Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship and Social Worker Degree Apprenticeship, we continue to play a significant role in helping to develop the future health and social care workforce in England by addressing a shortage of qualified staff in these areas, while helping individuals to achieve their ambition. More recently, we also launched our new Advanced Clinical Practitioner Degree Apprenticeship and also offer an apprenticeship route for the new Nursing Associate role.

"There are a number of challenges for developing the nursing workforce. I think the OU is an important partner because it gives us a flexibility that you wouldn't have with another partner. Because it's distance learning, it opens doors to a range of people who would have been precluded from going through a traditional university route.”

Dr Mercia Spare
Chief Nurse (Apprenticeship Employer), Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust
Read our Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust case study, or watch our nursing academy talk with Dr Mercia Spare.


2. Our apprenticeships aren’t just for school leavers and younger students

In WELS, we’ve found that the employers we work with tend to recruit apprentices from their existing workforce. This enables employers to provide career progression opportunities for experienced support staff who have the potential to do more, but whose circumstances may not allow them to return full-time to a campus-based university. Apprenticeships also provide employers with the option to recruit new talent to their organisation, providing opportunities for individuals looking to change their career.

"At the grand old age of 40 and reflecting on potentially another 30 years of employment, I just had to apply – and the rest is history!” 

Natalie Pither
Social Worker Degree Apprentice 
Read more about social work apprentice Natalie.


3. Our apprentices earn a recognised qualification from the OU

Apprenticeships in WELS range from Level 5 to Level 7, which is equivalent to a Foundation Degree, Honours Degree or Masters-level study. Like our other qualifying healthcare and social work programmes, our apprenticeships also result in professional recognition with the relevant regulatory bodies, enabling our apprentices to practise as Social Workers, Nursing Associates, Registered Nurses or Non-Medical Prescribers once they have successfully completed their apprenticeship. As well as helping individuals to achieve their ambitions, this means employers can develop qualified employees from their existing workforce.

"It’s really important that we support all our staff through all of their career in developing their training and skills so they can do the job in the most effective way.”

Ralph Edwards
Principal Social Worker (Apprenticeship employer), City of York Council
Find out more about what City of York Council had to say about our Social Worker Degree Apprenticeship.


4. Our apprentices are employed by our partners and earn while they learn

Apprenticeships are delivered by an employing organisation in partnership with an approved provider like the OU. This means apprentices are classed as employees and earn a salary while they learn. What’s more, apprenticeships are funded through the apprenticeship levy or government funding, which means apprentices do not pay their own tuition fees. For many individuals, this makes an apprenticeship a more appealing and affordable option compared with traditional university routes. For employers, apprenticeships represent an investment in their workforce and can help them to retain valued staff by offering career progression opportunities.

"Being a mother, going to university wouldn't have been an option for childcare and financial reasons. The apprenticeship seemed the best way because I could learn and earn at the same time.”

Kerry Austin
Nursing Associate Apprentice, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust
Read and watch more about Kerry’s experience and our work with Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust.


5. WELS apprenticeships provide flexibility

An apprenticeship combines work with on- and off-the job training. Apprentices spend approximately 80% of their time on their day-to-day role and 20% completing learning activities. Our apprenticeships are delivered through a combination of supported distance learning and practice-based learning in the workplace and on placements. The flexibility of distance learning makes fitting study around changing work shifts and personal commitments much easier compared with attending a campus-based university on a regular day each week. Many of our apprentices study their apprenticeship full-time, fitting it around work and home life.

"An Open University apprenticeship is a perfect fit for myself because it means that I can continue working on a full-time basis, and the flexibility of the study enables me to continue with commitments that I’ve got outside of work.”

Claire Partington
Social Worker Degree Apprentice, City of York Council
Read more about out Claire’s story and our work with City of York Council.


6. Our apprentices are supported in the workplace by local, expert tutors

Apprentices need to complete a combination of theory and practice-based learning. The OU supports apprentices with theory learning through expert academic tutors (Associate Lecturers), and with locally based Practice Tutors who support learning in the workplace. While in the workplace and on placement, apprentices will also be supported day to day by experienced colleagues who have been assigned supervisory roles by the employing organisation. In addition, our apprentices have access to a dedicated OU support team, and employers receive the support of a Local Staff Tutor and Apprenticeship Programme Delivery Manager for the duration of the apprenticeship.

I had some amazing assessors; they have all been so brilliant. When my family was going through a significant life change [in my second year], I spoke with [my assessor] and he said that there is always help, I just need to ask.”

Fola Yusuf-Adewuyi
Nursing Associate Apprentice, Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust
Read more about Fola’s experience on the Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship.


7. Employers value our experience and working with WELS

In WELS we have been delivering work-based programmes with health and social care employers from as early as 1997 and bring this experience to our apprenticeship programmes. Like our apprentices, the organisations that partner with us value the support we offer, the quality of our curriculum and the flexibility of our delivery model. They also value the practical experience that their apprentices gain alongside studying, and that apprentices can immediately apply their new knowledge and skills in the workplace.

I'm always very impressed by the social workers that we get at the end of The Open University training. I think it’s a really good example of partnership.”

Marion Russell
Head of Service for Practice Development and Safeguarding Standards, (Apprenticeship employer), Cornwall Council
Read about our apprenticeship route into social work with Cornwall Council.


Find out more

As our apprenticeships are only available in partnership with employers, individuals can’t register on an apprenticeship programme directly with the OU. If you’re an employer in England and are interested in OU apprenticeships, or are an employee who thinks your employer might be interested, visit our apprenticeships website for more information, or read more about WELS’ apprenticeships below.

For healthcare organisations in England:

For social care agencies in England:

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