A team at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust has been helping people who are unemployed or at threat of redundancy to find a career in the NHS.
It’s all part of a nationally-recognised Sector-Based Work Academy Programme (SWAP), funded by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) that the NHS trust is running in partnership with Weston College. SWAP began in April 2021 as a direct result of the NHS trust’s COVID-19 response to support people who were facing unemployment or redundancy in local communities into a career in health and social care.
And as of mid-June this year a total of 201 people had started the course, with 70 of those completing it and progressing into roles across the trust so far – a huge percentage compared with training programmes of this kind run in other employment sectors.
Cody Hyland, Somerset FT’s project lead for the Somerset Workforce Talent Hub, explains: “Originally people who took part in the SWAP were offered a role in the Somerset COVID-19 vaccination programme, which was in full gear at that time. The roles included administration or as actual vaccinators. We recognised that this model was working really well so we wanted to use it as a way of supporting services across the trust, which like in most sectors, were experiencing huge staffing pressures.
“From this we adapted the SWAP training so it became more focused on health and social care rather than just employability. The opportunities now available to candidates are not just limited to the vaccination programme but span across our entire NHS trust so we are encouraging managers responsible for hiring colleagues to strongly consider looking at the candidates we have available through SWAP.
“Unlike with standard recruitment, our SWAP team undertakes all the pre-employment checks and assigns candidates with the statutory mandatory training, which means they are ready to start work almost immediately.
“Some of the people we have helped through the programme have been suffering with mental health conditions and the course has helped them back into work, which has been a huge barrier for them. Seeing the transformation of some people, not just in finding them a career but also helping them to regain their confidence and sense of purpose, has been fantastic to see.”
The NHS trust’s main referral partner is the Department for Work and Pensions, which runs the Job Centre, and it also links in with housing associations, the council and various different employment and support services across Somerset.
Weston College provides a large part of the training, alongside NHS trust learning and development teams, and once people have completed the training, they are guaranteed an interview at the trust.
“There are two different routes candidates can take. The first is by signing up to our Staff Bank, which can be particularly useful for those who want to ease back into work, especially if they aren’t quite ready for set full time or part time substantive contract work yet.
“The second route is assigning the candidate to our SWAP database, which we use to collate information about the individual on a personal level, including their goals and what they enjoy, so we can match them to vacancies across the trust – from this they can go on to interview for fixed term or permanent roles.
“We also work closely with our careers coaching team where we provide 1:1 career coaching throughout the programme. It’s quite a compact course with lots of different elements to it rather than just a standard training course.
“Our SWAP is growing all the time as we started with a cohort of eight people, but this is now up to 20 people who join every three weeks.”
Julie is just one of the colleagues at the trust who have benefited from the SWAP. Here she talks about their experience of the programme and how it has helped them to find a path to a new career.
Julie suffered some difficult personal circumstances which had negatively impacted her career and following several years of being unemployed she had found it difficult to get back into work. She decided to take up an offer from her Job Centre work coach and joined the NHS SWAP.
“Joining the SWAP was the best thing I have ever done as it has literally changed my life,” she said. “I found the training at Weston College excellent and the tutors were encouraging and supportive.
“One of the unexpected benefits of the training was making a brand new circle of friends. We’ve got a Whatsapp group of about eight of us on the same course, we often take shifts together and it’s an active social group.
“The NHS is one of the best organisations to work for and the SWAP team has inspired me and given me confidence to start developing my career again.”
Nina Dawe – SWAP Programme Lead, Hannah Martin – Recruitment Administrator, Rachel Vile – Recruitment Administrator, Cody Hyland – Somerset Workforce Talent Hub Project Lead, Kate George – Recruitment Administrator.