Ongoing learning and development

Insights have demonstrated that when a healthcare support worker (HCSW) is settled and has gained confidence in their role, they start to seek development opportunities. As well as supporting HCSWs to progress into other roles, it is critical that there are robust learning and development opportunities for people to develop within the HCSW role. This could include:

  • Comprehensive training at the point of induction, to build HCSW’s confidence
  • Introducing HCSW leads into important areas such as infection, prevention, and control, or as equality and diversity champions
  • A focus on building leadership and resilience skills. Providing information and support on building functional skills such as English, maths, and digital literacy.

Understanding the challenges to ongoing HCSW learning and development

In 2021, a nationwide survey of approximately 4,000 HCSWs was undertaken by Health Education England to understand the common barriers to HCSW ongoing learning and development. Key barriers included:

  • Not being released for training
  • Not knowing where to look for reliable information
  • Not knowing who to talk to about training and development opportunities
  • Not knowing where to go for support around functional skills such as literacy, numeracy, and digital skills
  • Limited spaces for HCSW training opportunities and competition to get on courses
  • HCSWs feeling the need to justify why they want or need training.

Mitigating these challenges

Ensuring HCSWs have a single named manager and that managers have regular meetings with HCSWs, including structured career conversations, can support ongoing learning and development needs, alongside making sure any training identified is delivered.

Signposting HCSWs to reliable internal and external information on career development and progression is also important.

HCSW Learning and Development Roadmap

Health Education England, in collaboration with NHS England and NHS Improvement, and with input from HCSWs, has developed a learning and development roadmap for HCSWs, educators and managers.

It supports HCSWs to identify their learning and development goals and how to improve their skills to deliver the best possible patient care.

The roadmap is also designed to support educators and managers to have learning, development, and career conversations with their HCSW workforce. It contains tools to support these conversations and information about the training and professional development opportunities available for HCSWs.

It covers four key areas – skills for life (functional skills), personal skills, technical skills, and career progression.

Development and career conversations

HCSWs should have regular conversations about their learning and development needs and their career ambitions.

The NHS Leadership Academy has developed several resources focused on review and career conversations including:

  • A framework for HCSWs to help them facilitate development and career conversations with their manager
  • Guidance for managers on how to implement and embed review and career conversations within their organisation
  • A user guide for both HCSWs and reviewers to support conversations.

Take a look at the resources.

The Higher Development Award

The Higher Development Award (HDA) is a personal development programme for support workers that enables clinical and non-clinical support workers from all sectors to be the best they can be and acknowledge potential.

With support from Health Education England, the programme has provided a progression pathway for many to access multi-professional higher and degree level apprenticeships, as well as traditional pre-registration routes. It also provides development for those wishing to stay in the support worker role.

Download the HDA pathway to understand what it covers and visit the Skills for Health website to see a detailed list of the learning outcomes.

If you would like to find out more information, please email

Case study: Developing strong career pathways and embedding pastoral support at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust

University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust has developed a pastoral support package to help HCSWs early on in their career.

Band 3 healthcare assistants (HCAs) act as buddies and are the first point of contact for new HCSWs on the ward, meeting them on their first day of clinical practice to show them around. Buddies also support new recruits with the Care Certificate and receive training to help them pinpoint career pathways.

Through conversations and close working with new HCSWs, buddies gain an understanding of their skills, knowledge and experience enabling them to identify which career pathways are most suited. This can include level 2 or 3 apprenticeships, or pathways into trainee nursing associate or registered nurse roles. The trust also encourages HCSWs to reflect on their induction experiences and what further support they might require through its ‘Warm Welcome’ evaluation. They also hold a development day for new HCSWs 12 weeks after they finish their induction.

Evaluation of the programme has found that the relationships between new HCSWs and Band 3 buddies is one of trust and respect, which is also demonstrated through the level of engagement during elements of the induction and teaching process. The programme can also provide a development opportunity for Band 3 HCAs who are enrolled on a Level 4 apprenticeship in Coaching and Mentorship, to help them to explore and develop their skills from being a buddy to becoming a member of the Education team.

More tools to support the retention of HCSWs through ongoing learning and development can be found in the Ongoing Learning and Development Toolbox on the FutureNHS platform.

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