Debbie Matthewson is an associate director of people services (learning and development) and Elaine Cox is a work experience lead at Yeovil District Hospital NHS Trust. In this blog, they discuss considerations that need to be made when hosting under 18 year olds for their health T Level industry placements and the benefits it can bring.
Here at Yeovil, we have a long history of hosting younger students on placements, which has served us well to prepare for, and then pilot, T Level industry placements. For a number of years, we have hosted Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) students who are often under 18 and we have also taken on 16 year olds in apprenticeships.
Bringing younger students into the workplace has contributed to filling supply and capacity gaps, growing our own workforce from an early age, as well as supporting widening participation.
Despite there being no legal reason why students under 18 cannot participate in clinical placements; there have occasionally been challenges in securing placements in certain areas of the organisation. This highlights that hosting placements at this level is still an ongoing conversation but if done properly, it can be beneficial for both trust and students.
We find it helpful to advocate the advantages of having an extra pair of hands on the ward, and that T Level or BTEC students are there to help and support other staff in the capacity of a student healthcare assistant, whilst they are learning. We make sure that, in collaboration with the college, students have their care certificates and mandatory training done prior to starting their placement. This allows students to join as bank healthcare assistants, creating a direct talent pipeline to the future workforce, as well as offering students the chance to earn as they learn, where it is appropriate for all and is their decision. Students are also offered a competency workbook, that whilst not a requirement of the industry placement, offers the student tangible evidence of their learning and reassures staff of the skills they are developing and eventually practising.
We found that the best way to ensure an industry placement was a success was for all involved to work closely with the college, ensuring that students are matched with a placement that works for them.
We have a robust interview process for prospective placement students followed by an honest conversation as to what the student is likely to experience during their time on placement as well as asking the college to speak to their parents to clarify everything. Prior to the placement starts, we invite students to visit the trust for a healthcare experience week which serves as an in-depth introduction to their placement prior to being embedded in practice. There is also a meeting with the youth volunteer manager to understand the opportunities available as a volunteer. This serves as a great introduction to an alternative talent pipeline that could run concurrently to the placement, or serve as an alternative should the student find the placement is not for them. Following the health experience week, students are asked if there are any clinical areas that do not suit them or areas of specific interest, with both these factors considered when planning their placement. This has the added benefit of increasing the likelihood of a student continuing further work or training in the trust as they have been embedded in an area of interest from the beginning. There is a strong focus on ensuring that the students have all the pastoral support they require during the placement as this serves the dual purpose of ensuring they feel comfortable and supported during their placement whilst also supporting the ward in which they’re placed.
They are encouraged to speak to our T Level organiser, their college teachers, health care assistant mentors and ward managers. However, to alleviate any pressure in the ward, there are also roaming clinical educators who visit the students to act as a point of contact for advice and support. This is particularly useful if a student is struggling, as the clinical educator is not affiliated with the ward and therefore can be completely impartial whilst not taking capacity away from the ward itself. In summary, my advice is that whilst organisations have different approaches it is important that all organisations share the principle of maintaining robust processes to ensure learners are matched to the right placement and are well supported.
We are incredibly proud that some students have already become employees at the trust or gone on to nursing training establishing an effective and continuous talent pipeline within the organisation.