Apprenticeship providers are there to help support the education and training of our future workforce. They work to equip their students with the skills needed to cope with the demands of the workplace. Staff are trained to spot signs of stress and mental health issues in their students and know the best way to help them. But are we always as good at following our own advice? The UK’s Health and Safety Executive suggests not, claiming ‘teaching staff and education professionals report the highest rate of work-related stress, depression and anxiety in Britain.’ 

What are the main stressors? 

There are many different stressors and will vary from workplace to workplace. Here are some of the foremost common stressors: 

Workload and hours 

A paper published by the Nuffield Foundation last autumn suggested that one in four teachers in the FE sector work more than 60 hours a week. Workload and long hours are often cited as one of the critical factors in staff leaving the profession. Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, told the TES: “Many staff in further education work unreasonable and excessive hours, and feel that their workload is often unmanageable. Many are not given adequate time to do lesson preparation and marking on top of their face-to-face teaching hours with students. Add to that a growing administrative burden, and you get a long-hours culture that’s not sustainable for people in the long term.”

The Apprenticeship sector can be particularly demanding as staff have to manage a unique two-way relationship between apprentices and employers. They have to ensure that both sides are catered for and well supported

Resources

A recent TES survey shows over a third of FE staff worry about having fewer resources. Shortages in human resources, in particular, can cause lots of problems as they lead to an increased workload. Often staff find themselves having to work in areas outside their area of expertise. The lack of physical resources such as computers and books due to less funding also hinders instruction.

This stress can be worse in the apprenticeship sector as providers are under pressure to recruit apprentices to survive. However, this is increasingly difficult with a shortage of applicants across the country. Without these numbers, funding and resources will reduce further.

Inspections and scrutiny

Inspections often increase the administrative workload of staff. Ofsted has been trying to reduce the fear that inspections bring, but the stakes are incredibly high. A poor inspection result can at best lead to a drop in student uptake, and at worst company closure. Therefore, many managers and leaders place a lot of importance in ensuring unlimited data is ready for inspection. The pressure is intense.

Industry changes

Frequent industry changes in the industry can be the biggest challenge. The change in apprenticeship funding rules has been a significant change for all apprenticeship providers. The switch to apprenticeship standards and the demands of the off-the-job rule have been just two of the major hurdles providers, and their staff have had to address. Changes can often be overwhelming for staff with many feeling like they need extra training to cope.

How can wellbeing be improved?

Wellbeing at work has to be about much more than just liking our job. Levels of low or high wellbeing are rarely just because of one factor, and so all contributing factors need to be considered. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing have produced a framework which suggests focusing on the following areas

  • Health (how we feel physically and mentally)
  • Relationships with others at work
  • Purpose (including clarity of goals, motivation, workload, ability to influence decisions)
  • Environment (work culture, facilities and tools)
  • Security (financial security, safety, bullying, harassment)

Staff need leaders’ support to find ways to manage or reduce their workload effectively. Resources need to be managed so they can do their jobs properly. Teams should forge excellent relations with each other, clients and apprentices to reduce stress. A culture of support, rather than blame, should be encouraged. There also needs to be better training to ensure staff feel ready for changes and able to cope with extra responsibilities. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, equal emphasis should be placed on staff mental health as on student mental health. Mental health awareness training should be a high priority so that staff can recognise when they themselves need help.