Newcastle UNISON and NHS Trust work together to support apprentices

In years gone by hospitals and NHS Trusts rarely had difficulty in attracting sufficient new members of staff but the impact of an ageing population and the rising demand for healthcare means that this is no longer the case. 

However, this challenge of rising demand along with the impact of the redesign of services, the increasing use of technologies and processes plus the drive for higher standards of care has encouraged many Trusts to look to harnessing traineeships and apprenticeships as part of their workforce strategies. 

The Newcastle upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the largest in the North East, did not form part of the first wave of Trusts to train cohorts of apprenticeships. The decision was taken instead to use the apprenticeship model to develop new roles over time and to fill forthcoming vacancies, so that new entrants were training for a real role and guaranteed a job, and to work with the UNISON Bridges to Learning partnership as integral part of the planning and delivery process.

UNISON funds a Union Learning Rep, John Wears, to work alongside the Trust’s Education and workforce development team, and John was really excited at the prospect:

I was pleased to see such a great approach when I heard about it, starting small so that we can build the capacity to deliver greater numbers and especially the new roles, like the apprenticeships for operations development practitioner and podiatry assistants for example, as these are really innovative approaches to developing not just great skills but also transforming patient care in our hospitals.’

Seconded initially from his role as a healthcare assistant In 2009, John quickly became effective in reaching staff across the Trust who had not previously engaged in learning.  Since then John’s work as a ULR has helped to engage thousands of his colleagues in Bridges to Learning.

He has used every avenue to reach staff, from the Trust’s regular induction sessions and internal staff information services to sourcing learning delivery that his staff learning surveys show are in high demand. As a result, thousands of staff, UNISON members or not, have benefitted from John’s advice and support to improve their English and maths, acquire ICT skills and gain knowledge, skills, qualifications and confidence they’d never had the chance to get before.

In turn, John now has networks and contacts at all levels across the whole of the Trust, which provides him with both a constant stream of referrals but also vital intelligence about the skills gaps and aspirations of staff. John’s motivation is clear:

After a couple of years of combining my ULR activities with my role as a healthcare assistant, I think the Trust saw that I was reaching lots of staff  who hadn’t really engaged in learning.  Lots of people didn’t get the chance to develop confidence in their skills and learning the first time around, like I did, and I think that’s what’s driven me to help other people and probably explains why I became a full-time member of the education and workforce development team."

John Weir ULR.jpg

As Dee Fawcett, Director of Human Resources said:

I really appreciate what John does for the Trust. I’ve seen him grow since he’s joined the team and I’m really proud of what he’s achieved. I’m impressed by his determination and commitment to support his colleagues to develop the knowledge and confidence they need for their roles. He is now absolutely an essential part of the apprenticeship team, both in helping to plan how we scale up our apprenticeship programmes over time and in supporting the apprentices to develop the practical skills and behaviours they need to be part of our Trust."

Despite eight years in his Bridges to Learning ULR role, John’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned; if anything he’s even keener than ever having seen his own growth and success, which drives him on to do even more.  He now teaches regularly for TUC Education and his strong interest to help others to better understand autism and dyslexia has resulted in increasing demand for John’s workshops across the Trust and now from the young apprentices too.

‘Attracting young people to our apprenticeships has given me the chance to try new ways of reaching our audiences. For example, I really enjoyed promoting our events in both the Eldon Square and Metrocentre shopping centres during half-term. We used Twitter and Facebook every day to promote our apprenticeships and I worked with our production company to design posters with embedded QR codes, a technology I’d not used before.  These captured the contact details of the enquirers at our stands, which means we can keep in touch with them and alert them when apprenticeship opportunities come along."

Once on programme, John keeps in touch with the apprentices in a number of ways, from getting to know them during their induction to delivering one-day workshops on Presentation Skills, Rights and Responsibilities and Working with Disabilities for all apprentices, which explains why he often gets waylaid in the corridors by a young apprentice with a question or seeking advice:

The thing I love about working with the apprentices is their enthusiasm. They are really keen to attend the Bridges events as they usually agree with their manager the topics that are going to be useful for them.  They’re full of questions, which I really like, and I’m sure all of this builds their confidence in asking questions of their managers and colleagues as well as thinking about their own training needs, so this is giving them skills that they’ll use to do a good job in the future."

They don’t realise though that John is working hard behind the scenes to make the apprenticeship programmes a great success. Over the last eight months or so he has been an active member of the Apprenticeship Board and worked closely with the Apprenticeship Manager and his workforce development team colleagues to develop policy, job descriptions and targets that will enable the Trust to ensure that workforce planning and development steps up a gear while maximising its use of the Employer Apprenticeship Levy.

John also relishes the prospect of being involved in strategic longer-term planning and project management for future years when, as the numbers increase significantly year on year, supervising, coaching and mentoring and supporting apprentices to work and learn will need to be carefully planned to ensure that the Trust’s high standard of patient care remains at the heart of everyone’s job.

Though it’s a few years ago now, I often think of my own experience when, even though I had a place to start nurse training, I changed my mind at the last minute after spotting a healthcare assistant vacancy and thought I can learn and earn at the same time and here I am now helping to do this for lots of young people. Whoever would have believed it!’

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