In an NHS scheme inspired by The Apprentice, 12 candidates competed for a management trainee post. Is this the future of recruitment?

An exciting new programme at North Lancashire teaching primary care trust has put talent from across the country through its paces to seek out the health service leaders of the future.

Initially, 12 candidates were selected to the NHS apprentice scheme - the first programme of its kind in the country - from more than 100 applicants.

Each week the apprentices were split into teams that competed in a range of challenges. Every Friday they headed to the boardroom to present their work to a panel of PCT staff. Luckily, there was no weekly Alan Sugar-style firing, rather, the winners were selected through a final round of appraisals.

Following the gruelling eight-week job interview, four apprentices have beaten off the competition (see below), and are now gearing up to begin their new permanent roles as management trainees, starting by sampling working life in a range of PCT departments.

The scheme is the brainchild of North Lancashire PCT chief executive Ian Cumming, as an innovative way to encourage people from all walks of life to strive for a management position within the service.

"The apprentice scheme has been an exciting way for us to seek out the right people for the task of leading the NHS in North Lancashire into the future, and we are very pleased with the huge response we have had," says Mr Cumming. "We've seen some excellent candidates and the final selection task was very difficult, but we're delighted to offer roles within our team to four outstanding apprentices.

"It's vital that we keep attracting the best talent to join the team at the PCT and we are acutely aware of the need to attract and retain suitably qualified and experienced staff."

He adds: "The scheme also ties in well with health minister Lord Darzi's findings around promoting innovation, increasing investment in apprenticeships and fostering greater leadership opportunities for existing NHS staff."

Star treatment

The scheme was designed to be as open and inclusive as possible. Applications were encouraged from anyone with A-levels or equivalent, and to existing staff.

The response stretched much wider than the PCT's own footprint: word of mouth brought applications from as far as Cornwall and Hull.

Those who made it through the initial screening process were called back in groups of 20 for an intensive assessment day, where aptitude tests in verbal reasoning, numeric tests and logical reasoning were followed by a chance to meet PCT colleagues. But the grilling was not over there: applicants were then called in for personal interviews.

Finally, the best 12 were selected to become NHS apprentices. Their tasks have included researching and designing a public health campaign and creating a viable plan for a new health based business. Throughout the placement, apprentices were able to seek guidance and advice from their appointed staff mentor.

In one task, they had to find innovative ways to widen the membership of the North Lancashire teaching PCT affiliate scheme - a programme enabling people who live and work in North Lancashire to have a say in the healthcare they and their families receive. The affiliate scheme has been praised in NHS North West's regional strategy and now has more than 4,500 members. The PCT is still working to broaden membership, particularly among hard-to-reach communities.

The PCT now plans to re-run the scheme annually.

"Throughout the placement, we have been consistently impressed and surprised by the fresh ideas and approaches that our apprentices have taken to the tasks," concludes Mr Cumming.

"We hope to see the scheme as a regular feature in our calendar each summer, to make sure we can continue to seek out the very best talent that North Lancashire, and indeed the country as a whole, has to offer."

The apprentices

Name: Jo Morrow

Age: 38

Home town: Heysham, Lancashire

Personal history: Before becoming an NHS apprentice, Jo was a PA in the commissioning and performance directorate at NHS North Lancashire

"The scheme has taught me that local residents are at the core of everything the NHS does. The process of delivering healthcare is so much more complex than most people realise.

"One of the biggest challenges was coping with the complexities of each new task, working to restricted timescales and getting to grips with the group dynamics each time our teams were rearranged.

"My confidence has really increased and I am ready for the challenges that lie ahead. It has taught me that when you apply yourself, anything is possible."

Name: Matthew Maddock

Age: 18

Home town: Fulwood, Lancashire

Personal history: Before becoming an NHS apprentice, Matthew had just completed his A-levels

"Being selected feels fantastic - it is great to have such an opportunity so early in my career. Before I joined the scheme, the only thing that came to my mind when thinking about the NHS was doctors. Now I realise there is a massive infrastructure with a lot of work going on behind the scenes. One of the biggest challenges was proving I am worthy of a leadership role, as well as learning to work with people who operate in a very different style to me."

Name: Narinder Sandhu

Age: 22

Home town: Warwick

Personal history: Before becoming an NHS apprentice, Narinder graduated in biochemistry from Birmingham university

"Being part of the scheme has been a privilege and a major confidence boost.

"The greatest challenge was working alongside people with very different approaches to a problem and adapting to their styles to produce effective solutions. One of the main lessons I have learned is that there are many routes to a solution.

"I genuinely can't wait to start work in my new role. I feel very grateful for this opportunity to grow and develop and become a future leader of the NHS."

Name: Rachel Costello

Age: 22

Home town: Garstang, Lancashire Personal history: Before she was an NHS apprentice, Rachel answered emergency calls for North West Ambulance Service trust

"I am delighted to have been chosen for the scheme, and excited about my future prospects.

"Being an NHS apprentice has developed my leadership skills and I now have increased confidence in my abilities. I gained a deeper insight into my own working style and how I interact with others. One highlight was leading my team to victory in the task of creating a public health campaign. I also enjoyed giving a presentation to NHS North West chair Sir David Henshaw."