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    Vet Technician Higher Apprenticeship; Creating opportunities for networking and standardising the role

    12 March 2024

    In 2022, Harper Adams University started delivering the Vet Technician Higher Apprenticeship and our first group of learners are approaching the end of the course. I caught up with Karen McNeil and Philip Wilkinson from Paragon Veterinary Group in Cumbria to talk about their experience of the course

    Karen has been a Vet Technician for over 5 years and Philip is a Veterinary Surgeon and Director at the practice. The Vet Technician role is relatively new and as a result, the definition of the responsibilities will vary between vet practices. The apprenticeship has enabled an element of standardisation and recognition for the work undertaken.

     Philip felt the apprenticeship was a good opportunity for Karen’s career progression and for her to gain recognition for what she was doing. Karen has been taught how to carry out various elements of the role, but not always the background knowledge. The course has enabled Karen to gain wider knowledge, skills and behaviours and also learn from her peers.

    Paragon Vets have recently introduced a new service to the practice and they are now able to offer a freeze branding service; a local company stopped offering this a couple of years ago and at the time, Paragon Vets did not have the capacity to introduce it. After employing another vet technician, they have the resources to introduce the service. Karen said that she had been carrying out mobility scoring at a local dairy farm and it was getting difficult to identify each cow, as they did not have any ID. The new service is being launched at the Borderway Dairy Expo in March.

    Karen led on introduction of the service, from carrying out research and costings for equipment, through to offering it to current clients to make sure the procedure is carried out safely and meeting customer requirements. Through being on the apprenticeship programme, Karen has been able to meet with other vet technicians and as a result, she was able to arrange a visit to another vet practice for a day to see how they carried out the procedure. Karen was then able to come back to her own practice and share her learning and experience. Having contacts in other practices has meant this was easier to arrange.

    I asked Karen if the course has helped to develop her practice; she said it has made her think more about what she is doing. For example, the first module is Professional Practice for the Veterinary Technician, where they look at RCVS code of conduct and other legislation including health and safety. Karen said that risk assessment would always be in her mind while on a farm however, after attending the course, she will stop and think about her practice and she would consider different elements to make sure procedures are carried out in line with relevant safety legislation.

    I asked Karen what she felt were the advantages of doing the apprenticeship. She said that online learning is a big help, as it allows flexibility within the working week.

    Philip said that it would be the only way to get people on the course; if there was an expectation for somebody to take time out of their job, it would not be realistic however having the flexibility to plan learning around workload means it is more manageable. The course is a blend of online activities and block teaching weeks on campus; Karen said the teaching weeks have given her the opportunity to meet other vet technicians from different parts of the country and hear about what they do in their role. Karen also said that as part of the teaching weeks, they have visited a farm owned by Cogent and they have also had a visit to the pig unit at the university. Seeing other farming systems has broadened her knowledge and understanding. The last block week of teaching included lectures from a vet surgeon, who was able to explain the value of the vet technician role and how it could be developed in practices.

    The group started a WhatsApp group at the start of the programme and they regularly keep in touch to share practice and ask different questions about the role. Karen said these links would be maintained after the course has finished.

    I asked both about what advice they would give to prospective apprentices; Philip said it is a fantastic framework that allows individuals to develop. The apprenticeship offers a more formal structure to the role and the employer commitment is not too onerous. There is an element of time invested to enable the apprentice time for off the job training and some financial cost if the employer does not pay the apprenticeship levy however the benefits outweigh the costs. It gives individuals a career path and something to call their own, which gives value to the role.

    Karen said that prospective apprentices should not be put off by the amount of work involved in gaining the qualification; although it is a university course, you are not going back to full time education and the online activities are manageable. Having the flexibility to work around demands of work means it is easy to keep up to date.

    The next course is starting in September, so if you want to hear more about the programme, get in touch!


    Vet Technician Higher Apprenticeship; Creating opportunities for networking and standardising the role



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