Christ Church is one of four universities working together as part of the Police Education Consortium, which is delivering the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship programme with three forces: Surrey and Sussex Police and Hampshire Constabulary.

The Chief Constable of Sussex Police, Giles York, gives a personal view about the role of apprenticeships in transforming the police, encouraging new groups of people to consider a career in policing.

A career is more than a job

Policing has been a career of choice for many people for so many years. And for the majority of us, it’s more than just a career; it’s a vocation which makes us excited to come to work day after day.  

Policing isn’t for everyone though. Or is it? So often we hear of the challenges, the workloads and the trauma that can be experienced; a consequence of when we choose to do our duty and sometimes put ourselves in the way of harm. However, in one-to-one conversations with my officers, more often than not they will admit: “It is the best job in the world, I love what I do.” And that is the degree of personal satisfaction you get when you set out to make a difference for the better and see the results in front of your eyes.

I really believe that there is a role in policing for far more people than they might think. The challenge is getting them to recognise that and getting the recruitment processes right so it’s attractive and relevant to join.

Recruiting people who don’t think policing is for them is the answer

Fortunately, the changing nature of policing means that we need new skill sets that we must either develop in our existing staff or recruit into our organisations. We are not alone in this – The Open University recently reported that 91% of organisations have struggled to find people who hold the right skills. HMICFRS have also recognised how this skills gap could grow to a stage where police forces are unsustainable for the future.

Alongside skills, we have the challenge, as a profession, to increase diversity within our workforce further, so that we are truly reflective of the communities we serve and protect. With just 7% of officers across England and Wales coming from BAME communities, however, there is still much work to do in this area.

To enact real change, we need to do something different. As the old adage goes, if you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got. Which is why, as the NPCC workforce lead, I have supported the work of the College of Policing in building new routes into policing, including the introduction of apprenticeships and professional qualifications.  

The value of apprenticeships

Each day our officers and staff deal with challenging situations that cannot be clearly mapped out in a textbook or solved with an algorithm. Our teams deal with unique incidents which makes developing the officers of the future more challenging; especially as crime and technology evolves.  

The introduction of new entry routes, such as the Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship (PCDA) – delivered at Sussex Police by police trainers and academics from a consortium of universities – not only recognises the complexity which our officers face daily but also provides real opportunity to bring difference into our organisations and help address both an ageing workforce and the skills shortage.

In other professions, apprenticeships have allowed this to happen. In 2018/19, the Department for Education saw a 16% increase in the number of apprenticeship starts of those from a BAME community and a 7% rise in starts among females.

Within Sussex Police, we’re seeing similar increased applications to our apprenticeships from under-represented groups. In June 2018, applications for police officers increased 61% in just two weeks. Of these we saw a 114% increase in applications from females and 118% increase in those who identifying as BAME. Just this month (January 2020), over 400 people applied for degree-holder entry to be a detective, attracting 67% female, 8% BAME (against a local population profile of 6%) and those identifying with a disability at nearly 9%.

While we can’t put all of this down to the introduction of the new entry routes, what it has shown is that by offering the opportunity and ability for an individual to join policing and gain a professional qualification, we are ensuring that policing remains an attractive career choice.

A cultural transformation

Apprenticeships also offer us the opportunity to evolve our culture. Many of us aspire to have a culture of learning. Apprenticeships embody this principle completely. They enable us to transform the way we support and develop our people by placing a focus on self-driven learning, real-time development and alignment between the classroom and the front-line. This combination ensures that we’re adopting innovative, and evidence based approaches, to prepare our student officers to be independent, problem solve effectively and resolve situations using a combination of their own knowledge, experiences and structured learning.

It also offers a vocational learning approach which places the onus on the individual to drive their development. And by partnering with universities who are world-leaders in areas such as criminology, we are able to draw on their expertise and ensure we are building a sustainable pipeline of great officers who are recognised for the skills that they possess.

Keeping great staff

Once we have recruited successfully, we also need to retain those staff and that is why challenging and changing our internal process remains critical, creating an inclusive environment where people feel they belong.

Sussex Police is working hard to create that sense of inclusivity for everyone in the organisation. This hard work is recognised by our role as the United Nations global law enforcement thematic champions for HeForShe and being the highest public sector organisation in the South East, as well as the highest police force nationally in the Stonewall Top 100 employers.

I’m genuinely excited by the opportunities apprenticeships, and other entry routes into policing offer. We have a real chance to change the make-up of our workforce and attract new skills, people and experience into our organisations who will help us make a greater difference to the communities we serve and the victims we protect.

The four universities working together as part of the Police Education Consortium are Canterbury Christ Church, Middlesex, Portsmouth, and Cumbria universities 

Find out more about apprenticeships at Christ Church.