A ladder to success?

A ladder to success? Understanding access to, and the value of, apprenticeships in care homes

Researchers: Dr Rebekah Luff, Dr Charlie Walker, Dr Rachel Ayrton

Funding: 12 month pump-priming grant from the Abbeyfield Research Foundation


The recruitment and retention of staff in residential care homes is a complex challenge for the adult social care sector. Maintaining a well-trained and stable workforce is crucial in achieving the delivery of person-centred care; however, this has proved difficult to achieve. As an aging population requires growth in the sector and funding challenges loom large, there is a degree of urgency to finding a solution that provides for the staffing needs of care homes.

In the past five years, apprenticeships have been singled out as the key strategy to address this challenge. In 2012, the Department of Health set out an ambition to double the number of apprentices in Social Care to 100,000 by 2017, drawn from either existing staff or new recruits. Demos similarly backed apprenticeships in its 2014 commission on residential care, identifying them as an important opportunity for the sector to increase the recruitment and retention of care staff, and create career pathways for future leaders. However, despite substantial investment in apprenticeships, little is yet known about what they contribute to the recruitment and retention of staff, and ultimately to the quality of care. This project aims to generate a holistic understanding of the role of apprenticeships in care homes from the perspectives of apprentices, employers and training providers.

So what do we know already? While there have been a number of reports on apprenticeships more widely, there remain significant research gaps relating to how well apprenticeships are working in care homes. Research indicates that care apprenticeships are female dominated and that the majority are undertaken by current social care staff and not new starters (Fuller and Unwin, 2013). This suggests that apprenticeships are supporting retention but perhaps not attracting new groups of recruits as hoped. Care homes typically lose 40% of new staff within a year; however, we do not know whether apprenticeships fare better than other employment routes in retaining staff. Recently, concerns have been raised about the quality of some apprenticeships, suggesting that there is some inconsistency in relation to the support and training that apprentices are offered. ‘Quality’, however, has been viewed in relation to the wider apprenticeship policy, and without involving care homes, training providers or apprentices themselves in defining what they would consider quality. This reflects the heterogeneity of apprenticeships, which cover a large array of employment sectors, with Health and Social Care being just one scheme, and care homes only one type of employer. As a result, the specific and hugely varied needs of the care sector are unlikely to be taken into account in bench-marking.

Project Aims

Our goal is to develop collaborative networks with care homes and training providers in Hampshire. We have obtained funding from the Abbeyfield Foundation for this local scoping study. This will pave the way for a larger, national study, which we hope to develop jointly with stakeholders in adult social care that we engage with during this study. In this way we will ensure that the research going forward is embedded in the knowledges and responsive to the priorities identified by those who are at the coal face of adult social care provision in the UK.

In response the limitations to current understanding of how apprenticeships in care homes are working, this project will address the following research questions:

  1. Recruitment: Have apprenticeships widened the pool of potential recruits – is there more diversity in apprenticeship recruitment? Who is applying for care apprenticeships, who is accepted and rejected? What is the ‘competition’ to care apprenticeships (other sectors)? How well do apprenticeships compare to other employment and training routes in social care?
  2. Retention: What is the apprenticeship experience in care homes and at college and how does that relate to whether learners complete their training? What are the future plans of newly recruited apprentices once they complete? How do apprenticeships for those already working in a care home relate to retention and their future career plans?
  3. Quality: How do care apprenticeships support good quality training and the delivery of person-centred care in care homes? How does this compare to other employment routes into social care? How can quality apprenticeships be achieved across the sector?


Demos. (2014). “A Vision for Care fit for the Twenty-First Century”: The Commission on Residential Care.

Fuller, A., & Unwin, L. (2013). Gender Segregation, Apprenticeship, and the Raising of the Participation Age in England: are Young Women at a Disadvantage?