Having celebrated its 50th birthday last year, the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme is going from strength to strength, having recently picked up two accolades at this year's Association of Graduate Recruiters Awards.
The scheme not only won the graduate selection and assessment category, but also the 'best of the best' award. The judges praised the programme for communicating a strong link between cultural values and recruitment competencies - something MTS head of building leadership and capacity Dave Thornton speaks passionately about.
'The whole recruitment experience should be what people expect of the NHS,' he says. 'So when applicants come to the assessment centres we don't dictate a time and place - it is a choose and book arrangement that can be done online. We don't keep people waiting.
'We have tried to be more sophisticated about the process in meeting the needs of the users. Information should be honest and open and we will give people feedback. If candidates are unsuccessful they will still have a good example of how the NHS is run - responsibly, effectively and caringly. Even if they don't get on this course they should still want to work for the NHS.'
Competing for the best
Mr Thornton is clear from the outset about the demands of the course. 'This is about people who want to go up to senior management positions. We are not afraid to say that there are high benchmarks and that we are not prepared to shift them.'
The competition works both ways, however, as graduate recruitment becomes an increasingly competitive market. In searching for future leaders, the NHS is up against banks, blue chip and petroleum companies, who are all aggressive in pursuing the people they want.
'We really put ourselves out there,' says Mr Thornton. 'We go out to universities, careers fairs, onto websites. We are also looking for people within the NHS and have a target of 21 per cent of people who are internal. They can be nurses, physios, occupational therapists. This year we just exceeded 22 per cent of internal staff.'
Mr Thornton says they are also determined to get a greater diversity of students and so they target universities in cities where there will be greater representations of black and minority ethnic students. Almost a quarter of this year's intake came from BME backgrounds.
While the NHS may not be able to compete with the private sector on salaries, Mr Thornton says the reputation of the service and a comprehensive package of development, mentoring and support stands it in good stead.
'The MTS was sixth in The Times' top 100 graduate employers,' says Mr Thornton. 'Trainees that want to go on the best schemes do their homework and we need to know that we are up there with the big players.
'We've had some really public discussions recently surrounding recruitment in the health service - there should be good news out there about what's happening in management.'