Partnering with the NHS to enhance apprenticeship recruitment

Partnering with the NHS to enhance apprenticeship recruitment
In 2017, Manpower partnered with the NHS Black Country Apprenticeship Academy to design and execute an employer proposition and accompanying website to showcase the wide-ranging apprenticeship opportunities available across the seven NHS trusts in the region.

We spoke with Danny Wright, Academy Manager at the NHS Black Country Apprenticeship Academy, regarding the partnership and the solution delivered by Manpower:

Please could you provide us with a brief overview of the NHS Black Country Apprenticeship Academy?

The NHS Black Country Apprenticeship Academy is a partnership of seven NHS trusts in the Black Country, which has the end-goal of delivering a large, robust apprenticeship scheme. Each trust has its own workforce plan, as well as its own missions, statements and priorities. The Academy acts as an umbrella to sit over these different requirements, allowing us to take a more collaborative approach. It is unique within the NHS, and other regions are now looking at setting up similar partnerships.

We wanted this to be an internally delivered scheme, so potential recruits would be speaking with a fully trained NHS member of staff who knows the system inside-out. However, we also wanted to utilise some outside, specialist support from local colleges, training providers and organisations such as Manpower to maximise the Academy’s effectiveness.

What were your primary objectives when partnering with Manpower to build the NHS Black Country Apprenticeship Academy website?

When the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced, we knew we had to significantly increase our number of apprentices. The new legislation meant that 2.3% of our workforce had to be apprentices – almost doubling what we had previously.

Before the Levy came into force, we took a localised approach to recruiting apprentices. We had a really good relationship with local schools and colleges, but there was a glass ceiling in the number of people we could reach through this network. We needed to explore new avenues if we were to increase our number of apprentice recruits by the required amount.

Part of our solution involved developing a compelling proposition which would ‘sell’ the NHS as an employer of choice for apprentices. Why was this important for your organisation?

One of our main challenges was that young people were telling us that they had no idea what apprenticeships we could offer. If they did a Google search for apprenticeships, the NHS doesn’t appear – even though we’re one of the largest employers of apprentices in the country.

As a result, we were concerned that we may not be engaging with young people in the most effective way. The leaflets and promotional materials that we had created were very traditionally NHS-branded. They featured doctors and nurses, but not the full raft of careers that are available at the NHS. Furthermore, we would promote our job opportunities by going out to schools, colleges and job centres to give really inspiring talks, but it was just a one-off hit. There wasn’t a clear way for them to find out more information about the vacancies afterwards. We realised we needed specialist support to ensure we were approaching potential candidates in the right way.

What were the key strengths that you wanted to highlight in your messaging to potential applicants?

It became really important for us to create something new and a little bit different. We needed to stay within the restrictions of the NHS brand, but we needed to reimagine it in a fresh, modern way, so potential applicants could really understand our offering. Our Apprenticeship Academy is so unique, so we wanted to ensure it was presented to the market that way too.

The biggest thing we wanted to emphasise is that this isn’t just a course – it’s an opening to a career pathway. We consistently employ 90% of the people who come through our apprenticeship scheme.

What value has Manpower added to your business through the development of this website?

Before the website launched, there was an occasion where we had 12 apprenticeships to fill. We received 83 applications in total and shortlisted 20 individuals. However, only 15 people turned up for the assessment day and of those, just 10 people passed. It meant we had less people at the end of the pipeline than available roles.

Now the website has launched, it’s completely different. When we had another 12 apprenticeships to fill, we received 143 applications, shortlisted 80, invited 40 to an assessment day, and we ended up interviewing 26 people. We filled all of the positions with high-quality candidates.

How does the website align with your original expectations?

The fact that we got something off the ground that looks so different is quite surprising to me. To be honest, I thought we might end up with ‘just another’ NHS website. I’m pleasantly surprised and very happy that we have created something that is so different, and all evidence suggests that it’s had an immediate, positive effect on our recruitment processes.

It’s refreshing and really interesting to see how the project has developed. We’re now talking the same language as the people we’re trying to attract to our apprenticeships. And we’re now having discussions about things we’ve never considered using before – like Snapchat filters and Spotify advertising. We wouldn’t have thought about doing that a year ago.

Have you received any feedback about the website from anyone outside of the Apprenticeship Academy?

Yes, the feedback we’ve received has been really positive. Schools and community centres are surprised to hear about the great opportunities we are offering, but we’ve always offered apprenticeships – they just weren’t picking up on it.

We’ve also seen a change in applicant behaviour. They’re visiting the website and finding out if the apprenticeships are right for them before they apply, so we’re getting a much better retention rate. They’re also being much more proactive than they were before – they’re making phone calls and enquiries themselves, which is fantastic. The impact on our audience has been huge; much more than we could have achieved using our previous approach.

What’s next for the NHS Black Country Apprenticeship Academy, and for your partnership with Manpower?

In the first three months since the website launched, we’ve employed 85 apprentices, and we forecast recruiting an additional 400 in the next six months.

Under the Levy, the apprenticeship landscape has changed, and that presents us with some exciting opportunities. For years, you could do a Level 2 or 3 apprenticeship, and that was it. But now, we have a raft of different levels, all the way up to degree-level. Going forward, the dream for the Apprenticeship Academy is for us to recruit someone onto a Level 2 apprenticeship programme, and take them all the way through to Level 5. It’s about building a pathway of progression that could see someone through the first 10 years of their career. And I think our partnership with Manpower will continue as our Academy expands and evolves.

Looking forward

Raffaela Goodby, Chair of the NHS Black Country Apprenticeship Academy, outlines what their future holds:

“It’s such a pleasure to chair the Black Country Apprenticeship Academy Board – with so many passionate people around the table who care about apprenticeships in their organisation. And, more importantly, care about recruiting brilliant people into the NHS. The Apprenticeship Academy is such a success as it’s a trusting partnership with NHS values at its core – with each trust supporting one another to attract, train, develop and retain our people.

“The Academy is developing and changing under the Apprenticeship Levy. Two of our trusts have become accredited training providers, and the Academy will continue to be our ‘front door’ for apprenticeships in the future. We are incredibly excited to be working in partnership across the Black Country in this way, and we’re delighted to be able to show that NHS Collaboration and Innovation is alive and kicking.”

To explore the NHS Black Country Apprenticeship Academy website, created in partnership with Manpower, please visit:

This article first appeared in the seventh edition of The Human Age Newspaper.