NHS Careers, the careers information service for the NHS in England, has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Launched in 1999 by the Department of Health to help fill nursing and midwifery vacancies, NHS Careers has evolved into a service supporting more than 350 different careers in the NHS via a helpline, literature and websites.

We no longer have the national shortage of nurses and midwives that prompted the creation of an NHS careers service, but it is important to recognise that the NHS workforce is ageing, with around 30,000 people retiring every year. This means the NHS will incur a loss of knowledge and skills that NHS managers will need to replace through a mixture of recruitment and training.

The NHS could face a significant and expensive staffing shortfall if it does not plan ahead carefully now. It is more important than ever for the NHS to work even harder to retain its skilled staff and recruit the right people in the future.

Skills transfer

As many as 70 per cent of the NHS’s future workforce is already in work in different industries. In the short term, this means the NHS workforce will come from second jobbers wanting to transfer skills.

The NHS works closely with trade organisations to flag opportunities to potential workers employed in specialised industries, making them aware they can easily transfer and build on skills in the health service.

Young people

However, in the longer term it will be the next generation of workers, the teens of today, who will be essential for the NHS to maintain its capacity.

To deal with this, NHS Careers is focusing its efforts on the workforce of the future – those who are currently in education making choices about their future career. NHS Careers has developed targeted resources for 14-19 year olds and undergraduates to inform them of the wide array of careers on offer in the NHS. Our message is that the NHS is more than just the doctors and nurses that they see on Casualty and Holby City.

Recent research shows the positive impact NHS Careers is having on the choices of future NHS workers. A survey of people who had come into contact with NHS Careers revealed that 46 per cent had taken action to join the NHS since contacting NHS Careers. In addition, research with 14-19 year olds registered with the Step into the NHS programme shows the positive effect it is having among the age group. Since joining the programme, 93 per cent said they were more likely to consider a career in the NHS, with 80 per cent saying it was because they felt they could make a difference.

Training and development

Future proofing the NHS workforce is not simply about achieving a high volume of new joiners. The education and career development of existing workers is just as important in increasing the quality of patient care. NHS Careers supports employers and staff in this through the health learning and skills advice line. Trained advisers are available to offer free advice and guidance to support those who work in, or are considering a career in healthcare. For NHS staff, they can offer help with appraisals and ways to attain the specific competencies outlined in the knowledge and skills framework.

The recession has left health sector leaders, like those in all sectors, facing some tough choices. It’s possible, in some areas, that this could mean a need to reduce staff. Yet the demand on NHS services will continue to increase as the population grows and ages. The NHS still needs to be an employer of choice attracting and retaining the talent it needs to deliver the vision of quality healthcare for all. The NHS has a chance now to take a long term view of the challenges ahead – tackling immediate budget shortfalls alongside designing its workforce for the future.

To date, the recession hasn’t impacted too greatly on live vacancies. The more likely effect of the downturn on recruitment is an increasing diversity within the roles available in the NHS. This represents a recruitment opportunity, not a threat. Career progression pathways will be further strengthened and there will be more training opportunities made available, so the message is now is as good a time as any to join the team and make a difference.