The UK’s biggest public service department is investing in apprenticeships for frontline staff, building workforce capability in order to support the delivery of high-quality employment support services.

Since January 2021, over 40 work coaches and employment advisors have enrolled onto the level 4 Employability Practitioner apprenticeship as part of a scheme currently being piloted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The programme, which is delivered by Seetec Outsource and has been co-developed with the Institute of Employability Professionals (IEP), is designed to set high professional standards while providing career development opportunities and progression pathways for work coaches and other occupations delivering employment support services.

Professional accreditation for Jobcentre Plus delivery staff

Before the employability practitioner apprenticeship was approved for delivery in 2019, the DWP had been keen to provide suitable training and accreditation for staff delivering frontline services.

Work coaches and employment advisors play an important role in providing customers with the advice, coaching and support needed to secure employment, and equipping them with the right tools to do this is key. Celia Barkhuizen, DWP Apprenticeship Delivery Lead, explained:

“We had previously worked with City & Guilds to develop of couple of units specifically for work coaches as part of the level 4 Operational Delivery Profession qualification. This meant that suitable training was available for new work coaches to support them in their role.

“However, affordability was an issue; that’s why we took a keen interest in the work of the trailblazer group developing the level 4 apprenticeship. Once approved, the new programme could be funded through the Department’s apprenticeship levy and rolled out to a much larger number of employees.”

Piloting the new apprenticeship scheme

The initial pilot launched in January 2021, and DWP employees from a variety of locations across England were enrolled onto the apprenticeship programme.

Using a flexible, blended model, which combines facilitated workshops with a range of other learning techniques such as e-learning, self-study and collaborative learning, apprentices cover a range of topics relevant to their role. These include caseload management, coaching for support and change, and designing and delivering interventions. All learning activities are designed to build the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to demonstrate professional competence.

The pilot was evaluated after three months, and the initial evaluation showed that apprentices were ‘finding the learning useful’ and ‘the programme was well organised’. The apprenticeship was also ‘perceived as highly relevant to their job role’. This gave DWP the confidence to enrol additional learners onto the programme in the months that followed.

Hazel Ross works as an employment advisor for the Supporting Families programme in Wiltshire and was one of the first DWP employees to be enrolled onto the Employability Practitioner apprenticeship in early 2021. She supports service users to overcome multiple and often complex barriers to employment and feels that the programme has provided a valuable opportunity to develop in her new role.

She explained: “The knowledge I’ve gained through the apprenticeship has helped me to better understand our service users, and this means that I can ensure the right support is available to them.

“The behavioural change techniques we’ve learned have proved particularly invaluable. I can apply these to real-world situations and have seen first-hand the difference they make. It’s given me the skills and confidence to deal with even the most challenging customers, and a better understanding of how our interventions can impact positively on employment outcomes.”

Accreditation of choice for DWP work coaches and employment advisors

Following the success of the pilot, the Department now plans to offer the apprenticeship opportunity to all new work coaches and employment advisors in England. In addition to building workforce capacity and skills, the apprenticeship provides a tangible career development pathway for employability professionals within the public service department.

Celia Barkhuizen, DWP Apprenticeship Delivery Lead, added: “The level 4 Employability Practitioner apprenticeship opens a lot of doors for us. It has been designed specifically for the employability profession, so is highly relevant to our work coaches and staff in other employment support roles. It can also be funded through the apprenticeship levy, which means we can offer it on a much wider scale than we could with commercially funded training and qualifications.

“We see the apprenticeship as the accreditation of choice for new work coaches and employment advisors, and our first port of call for workforce capacity building. We have already seen some really positive outcomes from this development opportunity and look forward to building on the success of the pilot over the coming months.”

For more information about the level 4 Employability Practitioner apprenticeship, please visit our dedicated programme page.