Apprenticeships come into existence driven by certain factors, I will comment using the below headings;
Demand vs supply
Presently the demand for pharmacists is way less than the supply, especially as we have a lot of schools of pharmacy. Therefore a new workforce or route to becoming a pharmacist will only be a negative, as this would further compound the issue increasing the risk of unemployment and/or very low wages and poor employment conditions as we have often seen in community pharmacies in particular.
Insufficient workforce via conventional routes
As previously mentioned we have more pharmacists in the labour market than we have jobs, so how would a non – conventional route make the profession better? It would create frustration and drive further poor wages which is simple economics; more supply to demand equals lesser financial value attributed.
Void in workforce/skill required
We already have apprenticeships like the buttercup apprenticeships for dispensary workforce, we have pharm techs so where is the room for further apprenticeship in pharmacy; where was the need identified? This can only lead to further confusion and debates over roles and competences which could harm the already fragile public confidence in the pharmacy profession. Further conflicts within the profession; presently the profession is managing the conflict between Pharm Techs and Pharmacists, and this would only lead to further divide and frustration.
Government interference to take more control
As funding for pharmacy continues to be cut, giving the government room to boycott the profession only strengthens its position over the profession, leaving the profession helpless as there would no longer be a reason for employers and the government to feel obliged to meet the profession’s needs, disapproval and/or demand, as the conventional professionals become less relevant and the apprentices are loyal to their sponsors who are their employers, to the demise of the conventional pharmacist.
There is no precedence for this idea I am aware of from anywhere else in the world, however, we have precedence for those who want to study a medical related professional degree which is simply applying for a transfer or conversion. Surely setting such precedence can only signify the downgrade of the perception of the pharmacist profession not just to our medical related colleagues but to the public as a whole. This isn’t simply a threat on employment or wages but on our colleague and public perception of the pharmacist professional status. It will no longer be a course viewed on par with medicine and the likes, the ever-struggling profession would simply lose its standing position in the room where others have sitting down positions, we will be sent out to stand outdoors in the cold and fringes for good. This could damage the pharmacist brand and this isn’t an exaggeration, we see this already with community pharmacists fighting the perception of simply being box checkers who pharm tech can replace.
Level 7 courses and apprenticeships
The uniqueness of medical related level 7 courses is they make emphasis on the combination of technical and non – technical skills = functional skills training. This takes time and experience 12months doesn’t provide, it is why the nurses are moving towards a degree pathway, it’s why we have advanced practice postgrad courses etc. To suggest that 12months is sufficient regardless of the individual having a first degree is simply an insult to the profession, I can only assume those in support probably never did an MPharm degree and to their defence don’t realise the MPharm degree is not the diploma or BSc degree they completed. Apprenticeships are often used in the social sciences and mechanical courses/fields as these fields depend more on technical skills and less on non – technical skills at their baseline postgrad level. However, in the medical related field I am yet to see this become common place for very obvious reasons such as the need to develop much needed non – technical skills which could be the difference between causing harm or preventing of harm to service users. Apprenticeship is good for less fluid crafts and skills, as often what is learnt is reproducibility not versatility.
Regulation exists to provide uniformed standardisation which is much needed especially in medical related professions to assure public confidence in the profession. Apprenticeship regardless of guidelines put in place will further increase variation, as it offers more regulating powers to employers and other stakeholders whose drives aren’t fundamentally quality but labour acquisition cost. What we would see develop is similar regulatory flaws and loopholes observed during the time of the RPSGB leading to its enforced split. This will further compound the challenge faced by the GPhC which could lead to a further increase in GPhC fees.
How would wages be set as paying the post apprentice the same or more will surely create friction with conventional pharmacists whose training has cost a lot more and been more intense. It would affect the present poor wage structure more negatively.
I do hope for once pharmacists can rally together to wave off this threat to our profession, livelihood, public confidence and further professional divide.
Charles Odiase is an advanced clinical practitioner and specialist pharmacist in obesity and diabetes.