Case Study

Innovative recruitment of healthcare support workers and business administrators

South Tyneside and Sunderland NHSFT introduced successful new methods to recruit healthcare support workers (HCSW) and business administrators.

19 October 2023


South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS FT have faced unprecedented difficulty recruiting healthcare support workers (HCSW) and business administrator positions post-pandemic. The widening participation co-ordinator, Hayley Roberts, and colleagues developed alternative recruitment strategies for hard to fill vacancies.

Key benefits and outcomes

  • 90 people have been offered a HCSW role, and 30 people have been offered a business administrator role.
  • Unsuccessful applicants have received support in securing their desired NHS career in future.
  • Retention has increased for newly recruited HCSWs as they have a solid understanding of what the role will entail.
  • Staff are more willing to refer friends and family to trust vacancies.

What the organisation faced

In January 2023 the trust realised that their current method of recruiting HCSW was not working, and vacancies were increasing. Prior to the pandemic they used to be inundated with applications whenever vacancies opened. Despite constant recruitment, vacancies were now not being filled, and this increased administrative burden. The struggle was also reflected in business administration vacancies, where difficulty recruiting was being reported across the sector. After speaking to applicants, they found that applying through NHS Jobs was difficult, and some found it difficult to share their relevant transferable skills.

What the organisation did

The trust identified that there was no one size fits all way to reduce vacancies, but instead it would require a combination of different measures. However, each of the measures shared a common thread of supporting applicants, making it easier to access NHS roles and personalised support to reassure those applying:

  • They resumed and expanded their presence at career evenings in local schools, with a particular focus on apprenticeships as a viable career pathway to an NHS career. They spoke to Year 10 and Year 11 students about the variety of job roles within the NHS, how they could access them, and how an apprenticeship could help them realise their career goals. Students were surprised by the variety of apprenticeships, and how far through their career apprenticeships would be available. They explained what business administration entails in the NHS, with roles in finance, payroll, reward and benefits, amongst others.
  • Students interested in a HCSW apprenticeship, were invited to a week-long summer programme at the trust, where they could discuss the skills and qualities needed for the role, had practical demonstrations by the nursing staff and frank conversations about the realities of working on the ward. This summer programme culminated with  support making an application, and an interview. The trust aspires to do a summer programme for business administration in the future but other mechanisms are working well in this area.
  • The trust held separate recruitment events for both HCSWs and business administration, held on a weekend day and open to anyone. They found the events were attend by good mix of school leavers, college students, university students and job seekers. They used simplified paper application forms during these events, not requiring attendees to apply through NHS Jobs. For the HCSW event interviews were held on the same day. Given the variety of business administration roles, it was not possible to interview on the same day, but shortlisting happened shortly after the event with each team then contacting applicants.
  • The trust also partnered with Sunderland College, for business administration, and training provider, Training in care, for healthcare support workers, to offer 2 weeks sector-based work academy programmes (SWAP). The SWAP was to offer interested individuals, referred by the Job Centre, the opportunity to learn about available roles, explore what working at the trust would involve, explore their skills and qualities and finish with application support. A report on the learner was then shared with trust to establish suitability for interview. Unsuccessful applicants to the HCSW programme, were offered the opportunity to do a Level 2 Health and Social Care qualification.
  • The trust worked with South Tyneside and Sunderland Local Authority to support care leavers to identifying their career ambitions and, potentially, entering the NHS workforce. The widening participation officer offers 1:1 careers advice, including starting their career journey if they lack Level 2 Maths and English. This involves support to secure a role in the domestic, catering or portering services whilst obtaining the Level 2 certificates, then receiving support to apply for a HCSW role.

Result and benefits

The trust is delighted that all HCSW vacancies are currently filled and, thanks to the guidance prior to joining the trust, retention has improved. For business administration, many vacancies have been filled, but due to variety of roles involved, there is still more work to be done. Staff are more likely to recommend the trust as an employer to friends and family, due to increased awareness of the developmental opportunities within the organisation, in particular the scope and variety of apprenticeships. This ensures the local communities continue to be well represented in the staff body. By speaking to staff in various departments, individuals found out exactly what the role involved and not just an overview from the job description which led to increased retention.

Overcoming obstacles

The team found that managing simultaneous recruitment events and interviews was incredibly taxing and are considering separating these out in future. Whilst relatively manageable when recruiting to large numbers of vacancies for HCSWs, the variety of the business administration roles added another level of complexity.

It was also difficult at points getting communications out and to target relevant applicants. The trust mitigated this by contacting a local college, Job Centres and connexions South Tyneside, and utilising their communications teams to ensure that the messaging was suitable for their target applicants.

Takeaway tips

  • Understand the barriers to entry for your intended demographics. By identifying that NHS Jobs was overwhelming, the candidate pool widened noticeably when supported.
  • Multiple projects which overlap have more chance of success than one targeted intervention, by offering school leavers the chance to also attend the recruitment events their understanding of NHS roles was increased.
  • Don’t stretch yourself too thinly, supporting candidates with applications and offering interviews on the same day was logistically challenging for the team. Delaying the interview offer by a few days, allows more time and resource towards a successful event.
  • Once the processes are in place the hard work is done and recruitment initiatives can continue with less direct administrative input. It was viable to continue ad hoc care leaver support as we’d established the process with the first cohort of five.

Contact details

For more information about the work in this case study, contact Hayley Roberts, Widening Participation Co-Ordinator, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust: