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Veterinary nursing as a Trailblazer
  1. Erwin Hohn

Abstract

Trailblazers is a government initiative that gives employers the opportunity to develop apprenticeship schemes and drive them forward in the way that's most appropriate for their industry. Erwin Höhn, of the veterinary group Medivet, explains how the group is applying the initiative to veterinary nursing

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TRAILBLAZERS is designed to streamline and improve the current apprenticeship process. Its purpose is to facilitate efficient learning by delivering training that is employer-led and to equip people with hands-on practical skills that will be recognised formally.

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The Trailblazer initiative was originally introduced to assist industries where there was no formal learning framework in place. Unlike professions such as plumbing, business administration or veterinary nursing, for example, where well-established apprenticeship schemes already existed, several industries could essentially offer their staff no more than experience gained from on-the-job training. This created a workforce that was highly skilled in its own area, but without formal qualifications to recognise their aptitude or knowledge. Industries that join the Trailblazer scheme have the opportunity to create a training framework that reflects their goals as a profession, and that recognises and rewards the acquisition of skills and competencies with official qualifications. It's a situation that can see everyone win – for apprentices, it can equip them with the skills needed for a successful career and be a genuine alternative to going to university, or even be an opportunity to combine an apprenticeship with higher education. For employers, it can provide a highly efficient and effective means of developing the skills of their workforce.

Although originally intended for industries with no current framework in place, industries that already have an established training system are still able to join the initiative. Rather than having to build a framework from scratch, they can reassess their current processes to decide how they can be streamlined and improved.

The ‘Trailblazers’ in the initiative are the employers who take the scheme on to reform and reinvent the training syllabus and teaching methods for their industry, in a bid to promote excellence and ensure that the next generation of staff are at the pinnacle of their industry. One employer involved is the veterinary group Medivet. As a bronze Investor in People, helping to reshape, remodel and ultimately improve the current veterinary nursing training system was something the company wanted to be involved in. Medivet, City & Guilds and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons are currently collaborating with a number of veterinary groups and organisations to lead a reform of the profession by developing new apprenticeship standards for the veterinary nursing industry.

The Trailblazer scheme is an opportunity to maintain or improve current standards, and to streamline the entire apprenticeship process and make it more user-friendly, practical and relevant to the industry. This will benefit the profession by allowing us to reform present practices so that they fit neatly in with current industry demands and expectations, and so that the workforce that is produced at the end of the process is of the highest standard that it can possibly be.

Student veterinary nurse Chris Rossiter receives employer-led learning

Medivet currently runs its own training college for veterinary nursing students. The Medivet Training College was established in 2002, when it was originally known as Pet Health Education. At the time of winning the contract with local government to deliver veterinary nursing training, the company was the only veterinary employer in the country to run its own in-house training college.

The syllabus was originally delivered over a two-year period and the qualification gained at the end was an NVQ. Over the past 13 years, the college has evolved and it now delivers its course as a three-year Level 3 diploma, which is seen as a slightly higher academic level than the NVQ. The syllabus focuses on theoretical and practical elements of veterinary nursing and is delivered by the company's own lecturing staff.

Training is delivered through a day-release programme. Trainee VNs are placed in one of Medivet's 113 practices where they work full time gaining valuable on-the-job experience. Over 200 nurses have successfully graduated from the company's training college.

Any company interested in joining the Trailblazer initiative should apply directly to the Government to be considered for a place, and certain entry-level criteria must be met. Once this requirement has been fulfilled, prospective companies complete the relevant application forms and send in an expression of interest. This is formally reviewed and the proposal considered. More information about the application process can be found at: www.gov.uk/government/publications/future-of-apprenticeships-in-england-guidance-for-trailblazers

By bringing apprenticeships in-house, employers have more control over what is taught and how it is taught to students. They can streamline their syllabus and make it as pertinent and effective as possible to the needs of their industry. The result is that people who already have a high level of expertise in their industry drive up the content delivery and training methods for those who aspire to join it.

Employers working together to design the standards and assessment plans for apprenticeships is a key feature of the new system, as it should lead to apprenticeships that are higher quality and more relevant to each individual industry. By getting involved in developing the standards for occupations in their sectors, employers will have the opportunity to define the skills, knowledge and behaviour that are required in their future workforce. This should mean that apprenticeships can directly support businesses and help them to grow and prosper.

The underpinning aim of the Trailblazer initiative is to improve the training delivered to employees, increase their skills and, ultimately, enhance the standard of work they deliver. In the long run, this can only be positive news for British industry.

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