The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has announced a partnership with apprenticeship training provider Skills 4 Pharmacy to train apprentice pharmacy support workers and pharmacy technicians.

The NPA said that this will help community pharmacies to upskill members of their team and recruit new staff, which it added will help to meet patient demand during the busy winter period and beyond.

The partnership will enable NPA members in England to take on apprentice pharmacy support workers (a Level 2 pharmacy apprenticeship) and apprentice pharmacy technicians (a Level 3 pharmacy apprenticeship).

Skills 4 Pharmacy already provides apprentices to pharmacy employers including Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Day Lewis Pharmacy, Barts Health NHS Trust and Cohens chemist. It runs government funded training programmes and provides a free recruitment service.

The apprenticeships will support the training of pharmacy staff, including pharmacy technicians, but will not be for pharmacist roles. Previous plans to support pharmacy apprenticeships in England have struggled, with a 2020 proposal delayed due to a need ‘to dispel misconceptions’ about apprenticeships in the sector. The NPA told The Pharmacist that it is continuing to feed into discussions around developing apprenticeship routes into pharmacist roles.

But Louise Baglole, director of professional services and development at the NPA, said that demand for Level 3 apprenticeships for pharmacy technicians had been growing among NPA members ‘and we are delighted now to be in a position to meet it’.

Amerjit Singh, managing director at Skills 4 Pharmacy and a community pharmacy contractor, said that apprenticeships could upskill and empower the pharmacy workforce and were ‘essential’ for the future survival of pharmacies.

‘The role of technicians, in particular, who on our courses will become ACT's [Accuracy checking technicians], will help contractors to concentrate on new services and provide new funding streams,’ he said.

Apprentice training can be tailored to the needs of the pharmacy and includes a requirement for 20% of the apprentice’s paid hours to be spent doing off-the-job training, such as online learning or job shadowing.

Apprenticeships are open to new and existing staff, and there is a £1,000 government payment available for employers taking on a 16–18-year-old apprentice.

According to 2016 figures from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, having an apprentice boosts productivity by £244 per week, while The Chartered Management Institute (CIM) said in March 2018 that 81% of consumers favour a company that takes on apprenticeships.

Since April 2017, employers with a pay bill of more than £3m per year have been required to contribute to the Apprenticeship Levy, which can be used for training an apprentice. However, after two years, this money is lost if not used.

In March, the Scottish government invested £3.4m into an apprentice programme that it said should lead to 150 pharmacy technicians trained and recruited into general practices, hospitals and community pharmacies this year.

Until recently, the NPA offered a pharmacy retail Level 2 apprenticeship working in partnership with Qube Learning. This partnership ended in August 2022.

Helga Mangion, Policy Manager at the NPA told The Pharmacist that the NPA continues to feed into discussions with stakeholders on pharmacist degree apprenticeships, 'as our members rightly expect us to help shape any new approach to developing the pharmacist workforce.'

She added that 'properly conceived and constructed degree level apprenticeships for pharmacists could increase access, enabling new talent to enter the profession, so we should take the time to get it right.

'Any new approach to education and training must maintain or enhance the professional standing of pharmacists, the skills of pharmacists and the scope of pharmacist practice.'