8 February 2023
In National Apprenticeship Week, Daniel Underdown, lecturer and SLT apprenticeship lead at the University of Essex, tells us about his experiences setting up one of the first SLT apprentice courses in the UK
It has been a true journey to design, set up, and begin running the Speech and Language therapy apprenticeship programme at the University of Essex. We are thrilled to be pioneering this exciting and innovative pre-registration training route – and are looking forward to the positive difference this will make to both our local services and to the profession at large.
A key feature of apprenticeships is that the SLT-in-training is both a learner at a Higher Education Institution (HEI) and a worker in a role with a substantive SLT context (for example, as a speech and language therapy assistant). Apprentices are likely to already have a good awareness of the issues relevant to their service and setting, as well as the practical and interpersonal skills cultivated on University programmes.
Standing with one foot in each camp allows apprentices unparalleled opportunities to contextualise classroom learning almost immediately, applying theoretical learning to real-life situations and newly developed clinical understanding to actual clinical work. Educators sometimes conceive of learning as involving ‘hooks’, ‘thresholds’, or ‘glue’, with practical experiences and reflection allowing learners to hang upon, cross, or join their learning experiences, respectively. Typical working days afford apprentices such opportunities to grow and put their learning into practice almost instantly. This allows for a dynamic and fast-paced learning journey which makes the most of existing learning and prior experiences.
Apprenticeship courses are no less rigorous or academically demanding than the traditional, established route to qualification. Apprentices are still required to demonstrate the breadth and depth of skills and knowledge which we expect from all joiners to the profession. Apprentices go on placements and they gain a degree qualification enabling them to practice across the different settings in which we work. In many ways, and in part from talking with the apprentices already on our pathway, this seems to me a training option at least as challenging as anything currently on offer.
Essex’s programme is the UK’s first HCPC and RCSLT accredited SLT apprenticeship programme. One of the most rewarding aspects of co-ordinating this process has been the opportunity (and need) to learn from how other professions approach apprenticeships, particularly amongst other allied health professions where apprenticeship programmes are already well established.
We have been inundated with interest from prospective employers and apprentices since beginning our programme, from a variety of settings, size of organisation, and service models. Training apprentices holds benefits for staff recruitment and retention and allows the development of an increasingly diverse workforce. Apprenticeships remove barriers for those who cannot, or do not want to, pause working to undertake a full-time degree course. They offer a route for existing, experienced staff who want to progress their careers or new staff who have discovered SLT only after starting down other vocation or education routes.
Apprenticeships are becoming embedded within the landscape of pre-registration training. As this training route grows and develops, I look forward to continuing to learn from colleagues in other disciplines, service users, colleagues in practice, and most importantly apprentices themselves.
What apprentices have to say – quotes from people who have trained through apprenticeships
Why did you choose to become an Apprentice?
“I chose to be an apprentice as I wanted a practical approach to my learning alongside theoretical study. I feel this is really beneficial in a healthcare role, and allows me to obtain a better understanding of the day-to-day workings of a clinical environment. I also wanted the opportunity to study and work simultaneously, which has been incredibly useful as I can continue both learning & earning! Learning as an apprentice also presented a great chance to interact with other apprentices from various disciplines, and learn from one another.”
Beth Burrows – Speech and Language Therapy Assistant – Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust
What do Apprenticeships mean to you?
“Being an SLT apprentice is an inspiring new challenge and has given me the chance to train to be a speech and language therapist without having to leave the job that I love to go to university to study full time, giving me the best of both worlds. Working as an assistant has given me lots of clinical experience, and the apprenticeship route allows me to build on this and develop myself as a practitioner whilst I study. I’m really pleased to be in the first cohort of SLT apprentices at Essex and I’m excited for the rest of the journey to being a qualified SLT.”
Nikki Bond – Speech and Language Therapy Assistant – ESNEFT East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust
Find out more
Apprenticeships (England only)
Find out more about how apprenticeships work, the degree structure and how to apply
Guidance for employers and universities on the speech and language therapy degree apprenticeship in England
RCSLT guidance from 2021 for universities and employers on apprenticeships