The NHS has an important role to play in tackling youth unemployment. Apprenticeships offer young people vital opportunities while allowing employers to grow their own staff

When young people are thinking about where to get a job, the NHS may not immediately spring to mind, but North Bristol Trust has been using its apprenticeships – through the Skills Funding Agency contract – to shine a light on its job opportunities for young people. “As a big employer we’re keenly interested in securing our future workforce, but we are also an education provider in our own right,” says Jane Hadfield, the trust’s assistant director of HR/learning and development.

Healthcare assistants are able to do health and social care qualifications while employed at the trust as apprentices. The trust previously had vocational programmes but the switch to apprenticeships is attracting more young people. Vacancies are advertised on the National Apprenticeship Service website – a place where young people do look.

Ms Hadfield says: “Trying to align suitable posts for apprenticeships is our way of trying to suggest to young people they’ve got a way of both training and working in the NHS.” The trust is working with other education providers to build apprenticeship roles in other areas including IT and finance.

‘Trying to align suitable posts for apprenticeships is our way of suggesting to young people they’ve got a way of both training and working in the NHS’

The apprenticeship framework provides a clear pathway of progression with key skills, functional skills, a technical certificate for underpinning knowledge and workplace assessment. Ms Hadfield says: “There’s an absolute synergy with patient safety.”

Tackling youth unemployment

This month the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development published the survey Learning to work, which found that while employers recognise their role in tackling youth unemployment, a quarter have not hired any 16-24-year-olds in the past year.

In a second report, Investing in Young People: why your business can’t afford to miss out, the CIPD outlines the business case for employing young people. This includes supplying tomorrow’s talent; unique skills, new ideas and enthusiasm; a diverse workforce; positive effect on employer brand and reputation; and cost-effectiveness.

Elizabeth Eddy, head of skills in employment at NHS Employers, says chief executives and HR directors are philosophically and strategically committed to employing young people. The challenge is to operationalise that commitment in an increasingly devolved system where recruitment decisions are taken by hundreds of line managers.

Ms Eddy wants trust workforce plans to include a commitment to recruiting young people from the local community, which creates a talent pipeline and helps ensure that staff mirror the patient population. The plan would describe how employers will engage with local schools and colleges. Trusts can sign up to Inspiring the Future, which is a free service that allows people from all sectors and professions to work with state schools and colleges to help young people achieve their potential; which includes giving career insight talks to schoolchildren. 

Also essential is identifying how young people will map into the trust’s workforce.

Line managers may need help to communicate with and support young people. Recruitment strategies should be appropriate for young people, who can demonstrate behaviours and aptitudes with examples of extracurricular activities, voluntary work and family responsibilities rather than employment history. The Dignity Commission highlighted the importance of recruiting people who are caring, compassionate and friendly. Ms Eddy says: “Those are skills and aptitudes you can test for, but you need to be a bit more creative about how you’re going to test for that in a young person.”

Better links

NHS Employers is also working with the Department for Work and Pensions to improve the links between job centres and NHS organisations. Jobcentre Plus has a range of funding and initiatives to support pre-employment training and the NHS can tap into that resource. When the local Jobcentre Plus knows the recruitment patterns and employment opportunities at trusts, it can provide opportunities for potential applicants, including young people, to have tailored pre-employment training.

People who are recruited to entry level jobs in the NHS are more likely to turn up on day one and have better attendance if they are recruited via Jobcentre Plus. That’s because instead of just responding to a job advert, they have taken a journey which includes pre-employment training.

There are a number of entrenched myths about employing young people, such as “their attitude is all wrong” or “they won’t turn up for work”. NHS Employers has debunked those myths in the Health sector apprenticeship myths page on its website.

Kirstie Baxter, assistant director for education management at NHS North West, says “Personally I have found that young apprentices are extremely energetic, bringing both a fresh pair of eyes and usually a more relaxed approach to the working week.”

When NHS North West began in earnest with its apprenticeship programme for the bands 1-4 workforce in 2009, it didn’t attract many 16-18-year-olds, so in 2010-11 it launched a school resource targeted at 14-year-olds. It provides classroom games and quizzes to determine personality characteristics, strengths and preferences. It maps these and, for added fun, students’ star signs to a range of potential job profiles in the NHS, expanding their awareness of role and career progression. In 2010-11 and 2011-12, the number of 16-18-year-old apprenticeships escalated by 50 per cent.

Celebrating achievements

NHS North West also maintains contact with the young apprentices through the programme and three months before the end of their framework, works with them to look at either securing employment and providing higher apprenticeship support, or further education. Celebrations of their achievements are showcased with a formal graduation ceremony, just as with university students.

The TUC’s learning and skills organisation, unionlearn, is calling on employers to address youth unemployment by developing new job opportunities for young people. Apprenticeships should be high quality, lead to a job and provide decent pay and terms and conditions. “We need to make sure these are new jobs and not replacement jobs for existing staff that are being made redundant,” says Fred Grindrod, unionlearn’s apprenticeships, policy and campaigns officer.

NHS Employers is supporting unionlearn’s ‘Apprenticeships are Union Business’ project, which is getting unions involved in existing apprenticeship schemes, challenging employers to develop new schemes in partnership with trade unions, and encouraging union representatives to support apprentices in the workplace as mentors and guides.

Unison was an essential partner in developing apprenticeships at Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust because the scheme goes outside of Agenda for Change terms and conditions in relation to pay. The trust is fulfilling its corporate social responsibility and showcasing the hospital to the local population. “We are making sure that young people see the NHS as a future career option,” says Karen Clarke, associate director of organisational development.

Grow your own

The numerous business benefits include growing their own staff to have the right skills, attitude and behaviour, and new supervisory roles for existing staff.

Unison’s involvement has meant that it could support apprentices from the start. Carole Proctor, Unison lifelong learning coordinator, adds: “Because we have a joint apprentice agreement in place we were able to allay the anxieties of existing staff who initially may have thought that apprentices were a potential job threat.”

Making an effort to employ young people may look like a distraction in these pressing financial times, but NHS Employers director Dean Royles says: “The long game for HR directors in the NHS has always got to be about talent.” Work is good for health, so trusts that address youth unemployment reap multiple benefits.

Mr Royles adds: “Employers show what the organisation is doing in the community, attract great people into the organisation, and help the health of their local population.”

More information on building apprenticeship programmes within the NHS is available on the NHS Employers website