Apprenticeships: an opportunity for change

The latest developments on apprenticeships in the drug and alcohol sector.

On 17th July a group of providers, academics and the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Practitioners (FDAP) met to set up a Trailblazer Group (TbG) to look at the possibility of putting forward a case for an apprenticeship qualification for the drug and alcohol sector. This followed an initial meeting in May to look at the process (for more information see my article on page 18 of DDN).

What does a TbG do?

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. A TbG must have at least 10 employers from the sector concerned, 2 of whom must have less than 50 employees.

Those at the meeting felt that apprenticeships in allied fields (for example mental health), did not meet the needs of employees in the drug and alcohol sector who require distinct knowledge, skills and behaviours in order to perform their jobs. A key task of the TbG is to define an occupation/s specific to the sector, and the initial agreement was that the group will consider a drug and alcohol worker and a drug and alcohol manager.

It was agreed that the next task would be for the TbG to submit an expression of interest to the IoA for the following apprenticeship roles: a drug and alcohol worker (with agreement that educational level 4 would be appropriate for this role) and a drug and alcohol manager (educational level 5). The TbG elected 2 co-chairs to take this process forward. To put in an expression of interest the TbG is tasked with setting a draft standard for each role.

What is a standard?

Standards describe the occupational profile linked to the knowledge, skills and behaviours that bring full competence in a particular occupation. They describe how an apprentice can demonstrate mastery of this occupation by the end of the apprenticeship.

Some standards have a core and options. They define some core knowledge, skills and behaviours which are required by everyone in the occupation. Options then relate to specific knowledge and skills required for a particular specialism within the overall occupation. This approach is intended to avoid the need to develop a large number of very similar standards, one for each specialism.

Next steps

The meeting felt that Drug and Alcohol National Occupation Standards (DANOS) will provide a useful basis to work from, but may need to be added to or amended for the apprenticeship standards.

To put forward an expression of interest the TbG must create a summary of each role and of the required knowledges, skills and behaviours for each of them. Employers agreed to share information on the current job descriptions and person specifications that they use when recruiting drug and alcohol treatment workers and team leaders (or their equivalents).

There must also be a clear business case put forward, including size of the sector (in terms of pounds, organisations and people, as well as social value).

The plan is to produce a draft expression of interest by the autumn, and we will continue to consult widely with the field on this process.

Are you an employer who would like to be involved in the Trailblazer Group? Does your organisation have less than 50 employees? We are keen for you to be involved. Please email

For more information about apprenticeships in the drug and alcohol sector see this free webinar.

You can also find out more information on the trailblazing process here.

Kate Halliday

FDAP/ SMMGP Interim Executive Director