In April 2017 all employers in England with a salary bill of more than £3m were required by the government to pay an apprenticeship levy amounting to 0.5 per cent of their payroll. Employers are allowed to recoup or draw down this money by putting their employees through apprenticeship courses. However, providers in the drug and alcohol sector have been struggling to identify an apprenticeship which suited the majority of their workforce.

A group of providers, academics and the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Practitioners (FDAP) set up a Trailblazer Group (TbG) in July 2017 to look at the possibility of putting forward a case for an apprenticeship qualification for the drug and alcohol sector.

A TbG puts forward a case to the Institute of Apprenticeships (IoA) that their workforce has specific training and development needs that are not being currently met by any other apprenticeship. This presents an opportunity for the drug and alcohol sector to set a consistent standard, agreed by employers, for job roles within the sector – something that has been missing until now. This has the potential to provide consistency for employers, commissioners, the workforce and users of services.

Apprenticeships also have the potential to offer opportunities for career progression and improved staff retention. Moreover, apprenticeships will allow volunteers, often people in recovery, to move from unpaid positions into employment supported by qualifications and in-work experience. Whilst providers can employ new apprentices in order to draw down the levy, this is not a requirement and the existing workforce can also be put through an apprenticeship.

On 31st October 2017 the Trailblazer Group (TbG) met to take forward ideas for an apprenticeship for the Drug and Alcohol Sector. This group has wide representation from providers across the sector. The trailblazer group was tasked with producing a standard for the job role(s) identified, and capturing evidence in three areas: knowledge, competency and behaviours.

There were some understandable concerns raised by the group. Anyone studying for apprenticeship qualifications will be required to spend 20 per cent of their time studying. At a time when providers are being asked to provide ‘more for less’ there are concerns that this could place strain on service delivery. And while everyone expressed the desire to have the best possible educated workforce, some concerns were expressed about the current financial envelopes for service delivery and whether a better qualified workforce can be appropriately remunerated.

Despite these issues there was overall enthusiasm for an apprenticeship in the sector and two possible suggestions for apprenticeships were made: drug and alcohol treatment practitioner (educational level 4) and drug and alcohol treatment manager (educational level 5).

The TbG chairs and FDAP spent the next few months putting forward the suggestion of a Drug and Alcohol Practitioner Apprenticeship Level 4 qualification to the Institute for Apprenticeships as a core qualification for the sector, with the view to putting forward a further qualification for a drug and alcohol treatment manager at a later stage.

However, having fulfilled the criteria for an application at the time of the TbG meeting, including estimates of numbers who would take up the course, buy-in from educational providers to develop courses, and a list of competencies agreed by employers, when the group came to apply the criteria for applications for apprenticeships changed. In addition, we were being encouraged to liaise with the health and care sector to see if existing apprenticeships would fit the sector. There has been increasing encouragement from the IoA towards a more generic approach to apprenticeships.

The Chairs of the TbG have since liaised with other employers in the health and social care sectors to seek advice about the best way forward and the sector is looking at solutions and working on them. There is increasing interest in workforce issues in the drug and alcohol sector from the Government, mentioned in the Green Paper (Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s).


We are now planning to run an online event before the end of the year to educate the TbG on the issues, and to seek views on the best way forward.

If you are a provider interested in attending this event, please email [email protected]