Changing and challenging the psychological workforce

Ella Rhodes reports.

Technological advances, including the continuous evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), new routes into work and the NHS Long Term Plan are changing the face of the psychological workforce. Two individuals working in the area for the British Psychological Society (BPS) spoke to us about the challenges and opportunities this creates.

‘These changes we’re seeing in the workforce drive the need to think in new ways about how we train and educate a future-ready, highly skilled and psychologically literate workforce who can utilise their knowledge and practice to meet real world challenges both now and as these emerge,’ said Claire Tilley, BPS Education and Training Manager.

The NHS Long Term Plan is driving many of the changes required in the wider psychological workforce, with its focus on increasing access to mental health services. The Society is working to develop apprenticeship routes into psychological jobs to fill workforce gaps and open up opportunities to work in the NHS to a broader range of people. The BPS is also offering support and guidance to stakeholders and acting as an advocate for members and the discipline.

Tilley said it was important to inform employers of the benefits of a psychologically-informed workforce as well as potential students of the benefits of undertaking psychology education or training. ‘We have an opportunity at the moment to influence huge change, particularly in the Mental Health Workforce through the development of new routes, roles and standards.’

BPS Senior Policy Advisor Sabrina Kamayah added that another way to increase the visibility of psychological professions was to improve clinical leadership and engagement in shaping policy for psychological professions. ‘One suggestion put forward from Health Education England work on new roles is to have a chief officer role for psychology to represent psychological professions across the protected titles at a local, regional and national level. This would also enable parity with other national roles at this level – for example a chief social worker.’

While some of the changes needed in the psychological workforce are predictable, others are far less so. AI seems bound to have a profound impact on humans and Tilley said there is a possible role for psychologists to research the human impacts of technologies such as this. Kamayah added that the face of therapy is changing thanks to technological advances, and while online therapies and mental health apps may increase access to support, many on the market have not been approved by official bodies. ‘Where does this leave vulnerable people if there are glitches in the technology that is being developed? And what does this mean for psychologists who are left supporting people who are engaging with technology in a very different way? This is an area we don’t know enough about yet so it’s key for the BPS to keep a watching brief on AI and to engage with psychologists who are leading in this area.’

As well as changes to the technology used to tackle mental health issues, the make-up of the psychological workforce is set to be shifted as Generation Z (those born between the mid 90s and mid 00s) reaches working age. As Tilley explained, the next generation’s career aspirations and views of career pathways are quite different to those of past generations. ‘Alternative routes through to roles in psychology should be developed to further broaden the appeal of the discipline, to safeguard the professions in the future and to support further diversification of the workforce. It is hoped that a diverse workforce will encourage further engagement with psychology and the many benefits it can offer from a broader cross-section of society.’ 

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