The NHS is recruiting former military personnel - and so should you

From left: Major Sally Schofield (NHS physiotherapist), Colonel Helen Singh (commanding officer 306 Hospital Support Regiment and NHS nurse), Honorary Colonel Gemma Wright (Armed Forces programme lead at NHS Employers), Sergeant Sarah Langholtz (306 Hospital Support Regiment physical training instructor)

Gemma Wright is the programme lead for Step into Health at NHS Employers and in this blog, explores the benefits employing members of the Armed Forces community can have on the NHS workforce. This article was originally published in People Management magazine and following publication, the Step into Health programme has been formally recognised through winning its first-ever award, taking home Ex-Forces Initiative of the Year at the British Ex-Forces in Business Awards.

Around 16,000 people leave the military each year. Many look to build a second career, utilise the skills they have learned within a different environment and create a stable base for their families, following what can be years of uncertainty.

The NHS can be the answer to a new career; there are stark similarities between the two institutions in terms of history and shared values. World War I sowed the seeds of the NHS we know today, with its frontline military medical services leading the way in delivering quality care to patients.  

And those leaving the military today with clinical experience aren’t the only members of the Armed Forces community who can find a new career in the health service. There are hundreds of non-clinical roles available within the NHS that can benefit from the skills and experience the forces community can bring.

NHS Employers leads the Step into Health programme (on behalf of the Royal Foundation and the NHS), which since 2014 has helped match more than 180 service leavers, veterans, and their spouses and dependants with jobs in the health service. We’ve seen them working in a wide spectrum of roles, from porters to director positions.

Take Tiffany, for example, whose two-decade Army career saw her deployed in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, and a role overseeing procurement for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence equipment. She now works as an executive director of transformation at a hospital near Liverpool. 

“I am used to extreme multitasking within the Armed Forces and relying on a team to ensure we get things done,” Tiffany says. “My military skills have been invaluable.”

More than 75 NHS organisations from across the UK now actively recruit from the Armed Forces community. These organisations offer advice, taster days and work placements, identifying the best career path for individuals based on the hundreds of different roles available. 

In our own 2018 research, 97 per cent of NHS organisations surveyed said hiring members of the Armed Forces community brought enhanced working behaviours. A further 83 per cent said they brought additional skills such as teamwork, leadership and management.

Plenty of NHS employers have been recognised for their work in supporting the Armed Forces. The healthcare sector is consistently well-represented in the pool of gold award winners at the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme, which encourages employers to support the work of the Ministry of Defence and inspire others to do the same. 

But we believe it’s not just the NHS that should be hiring as many members of this community as possible. With a competitive labour market and the UK’s departure from the EU, recruiting from our local communities has never been more important.

And with many UK employers struggling to fill posts, the continual pipeline of those leaving the military looking for meaningful employment, as well as the families that support them, represent a very real opportunity.

The skills and experiences of this community add a richness to the NHS workforce, and other organisations should undoubtedly follow the same path.

For more information on how you can support the Armed Forces within your workforce, visit our dedicated web pages.

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