The Ministry of Defence (MoD) Defence Employer Recognition Scheme rewards employers to support Armed Forces colleagues within their organisation and inspire other organisations to do the same.
Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is one of the fourteen NHS organisations that successfully achieved the ESR gold award in 2020. Alex Ridley, the organisation's HR Manager, has shared her experience of achieving the gold award, detailing the positive impact that it has had on the organisation in this written interview.
Can you describe your organisation’s journey to obtaining your gold award?
We began working on this in 2017, pledging to Step into Health and signing the Armed Forces Covenant that year. We then successfully got the silver award in 2018, before receiving gold this year.
I found the journey to the gold award to be well supported, both internally and by our regional links at the MoD, who supported us through this application, and previously unsuccessful gold and silver applications. We had plenty of ideas which we ran past the board and they were supportive of all of them.
We invited the local reserve unit to one of the main hospital sites, and worked with them to help raise the profile of reservists and the benefits of becoming one. Alongside this, we showed committed dedication by participating in MoD delivered leadership courses across the management team. The courses have enabled managers to see what reservist training looks like and understand its value, this has helped with getting the whole organisation on board with this agenda.
Was there anything that prompted your organisation to take action and fulfil the gold award criteria?
I think there was a recognition that we could do more to support our employees who are part of the Armed Forces community, such as drafting our internal policy that permits ten additional days of paid leave to cover the annual camp. The criteria seemed like something we could achieve so we began to work through it. We were driven by a general organisational consensus that working towards the gold award had a lot of advantages to both the trust and the Armed Forces community.
Did you partner, network or knowledge share with any organisations outside of your own trust to achieve your gold award?
We have networked with local trusts, signposting people in their direction if their skills better fit an acute trust. I also met with local contacts to talk through the application and recruitment processes. We liaised with a local reserves unit who came on site to attract reservists, and I had held some early conversations with a cadet unit regarding apprenticeships. Additionally, we liaise with the CTP (Career Transition Partnership) and have started attending recruitment fairs.
How would you describe the benefits of obtaining your gold award for your workforce and trust?
The gold award essentially substantiates our claim of support for our Armed Forces colleagues. The steps we’ve taken have been beneficial to our employees, as it gives them enhanced visibility in terms of their skills and additional benefits such as paid leave. Our Armed Forces employees know they can access additional support from us, for example I have recently been working with a veteran regarding employment opportunity signposting for our service users.
What helped or hindered your progress in obtaining your gold award?
The biggest challenges for us as a trust have been the limited number of Armed Forces personnel that explore our trust as a place to work. Feedback from the CTP showed Northamptonshire as having a low number of service leavers, and anecdotal feedback also seems to signpost these groups to acute trusts rather than community. Having said that, I believe we have everything in place to support people as and when they do approach us.
What practical advice would you give to other NHS trusts/organisations that are considering achieving their gold award?
We spent time identifying and getting to know our existing Armed Forces colleagues, as well as looking at what potential employees would need. I think this is really important in making sure that you are not only attracting people, but that you are following this through internally to retain them. This enables to support our existing employees but also evidences that we follow the pledges we made in the covenant, and as part of the gold award.
Find out more about how you can go for gold next year on our ERS award web page. If you’d like to know more about Northamptonshire’s journey to gold, please contact the Armed Forces team (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.