Routes into the NHS

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This webpage aims to provide further detail about the routes into the NHS featured in our infographic and outlines the additional options available to complement the traditional training and recruitment routes.

The range of options available can create a confusing picture for employers so this page will hopefully help you make sense of the different routes that can be used to:

  • support your workforce challenges
  • inclusively recruit from the local community
  • build career pathways.

We have also set out more information about the different routes below.

Employability programmes

These are pre-employment programmes usually aimed at specific groups, for example, 16-24-year-olds not in education, employment or training, young offenders, or young carers. While the criteria for the schemes may differ, they usually include an element of training and work experience to help people develop their employability skills. Usually lasting between four and 13 weeks, the programmes give an insight into working life and provide skills such as interview techniques and CV writing. The programmes can be used to support people to move into initial entry-level posts and provide a progression pathway into Level 2 qualifications and sustainable employment.

Health Education England (HEE) has a range of toolkits to support employers to better understand work experience and employability programmes. The Job CentrePlus and The Prince's Trust may also be able to support employers with programmes.

Work experience

This can be an ideal way for those not sure what they want to do or which sector they want to work in to gain some experience of what it is like to be in a work setting. The length of the work experience can vary from ‘tasters’ lasting just half a day through to one or two weeks or even delivered a couple of days a week over a few months. The key is to find what works for you and those taking part. While the programme can include observation and work shadowing, it should give some direct experience of the work the role involves. A good quality work experience placement should be well organised, purposeful, have a clear role, and be reviewed. Those taking part will need to be supervised which can provide an opportunity for existing staff wishing to develop some management and leaderships skills. For an employer, a programme can provide the first step in a 'grow your own' approach to building your workforce and feeding your talent pipeline.

Health Education England has developed a work experience toolkit that outlines best practice and captures everything employers need to know to get started. Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust offers placements to people aged 14 and over. The trust has produced these terms and conditions for its work experience programme.

T Levels

These are a new Level 3 technical education route that provide an alternative to A levels for 16-19-year-olds. One T Level is equivalent to three A levels. They are due to begin in September 2020 and come in a range of subject areas including; digital, HR, healthcare science and health. What sets T Levels apart from A levels is that they include an industry placement of 315 hours (approximately 45 days) in an employment setting. Employers can use this opportunity to showcase the breadth of roles available to a talent pool that know they want to work in health or social care but haven’t yet picked a specific occupation. The industry placement should enable the students to put their learning into practice and get involved in tasks required to fulfil a role such as assisting with brushing a patient’s teeth or answering telephone queries. How the industry placement is structured can be agreed between employers and the education provider.

Visit our web section to find out more about T Levels and industry placements. You can also read the case studies from Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust about how they’ve delivered industry placements in clinical and non-clinical areas in their organisations.

Supported internships

Lasting up to one year, these internships offer 16-24 year olds with a learning difficulty, disability or autism, an opportunity to build their skills and confidence to go into paid work. Supported internships are a way of encouraging participation among this group who are often disproportionately excluded in society. NHS Employers has published an interactive toolkit on recruiting and supporting disabled people in the NHS and a case study with Barts Health NHS Foundation Trust about Project SEARCH, a supported internship for people with learning disabilities.

There is further information about how you can attract applicants, be more inclusive in recruitment, and retain and support members of staff with disabilities and learning difficulties on our dedicated webpage. There are also practical resources to help you implement the Workforce Disability Equality Standard and guidance on recruiting people with learning difficulties and being an effective disability confident employer in our web section about supporting disability in the workplace. HEE created Project Choice to help young adults gain work experience and improve employability and independence skills within NHS organisations. You can read more about this on HEE’s website.

Return to practice

These programmes are aimed at previously registered professionals and aim to update their skills and knowledge in order to facilitate a return to practice, they typically last between 1-12 months. Health Education England runs return to practice programmes designed to provide individuals with help and information should they wish to return to their profession. There is also a suite of resources including leaflets, posters and videos designed to help employers promote return to practice.

From 28 January 2020, nurses and midwives who are looking to return to practice can undertake a test of competence instead of doing a return to practice course. This is an alternative route back onto the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register and does not replace return to practice courses which are still available. More information on the test of competence including information on how to apply and preparation materials are available on the NMC website.


These are programmes for 16-24 year olds not in education, training or work, who are motivated but not yet ready for work or an apprenticeship. The programmes are designed to provide the skills, confidence and attitudes they will need to thrive in the workplace. At the core of the programme is a work experience placement to help trainees become ready for the world of work. Traineeships are delivered by training providers and the cost of the training is met by government funding. Employers work with providers to design a programme that meets the trainee's needs and can include things such as behaviours expected in the workplace, and support to achieve a standard of English and maths.

You can find more information about the benefits and support available to deliver traineeships on our webpage.

Kickstart scheme

In September 2020 the Government launched a £2 billion kickstart scheme as part of its Plan for Jobs. The funding can be used by employers to create six month work placements for people aged between 16 - 24 and claiming universal credit.  The roles are fully subsidised by the government. Funding is available following a successful application process and applications must be for a minimum of 30 jobs. 


These are most suitable for people who like to learn on the job, and with the wide range of apprenticeships now available, including higher and degree-level apprenticeships, they can be used to attract new talent or develop and upskill existing staff. Apprenticeships are available to anyone over the age of 16 and provide the opportunity to gain a qualification and apply the learning while continuing to earn a salary. Apprentices work within a specific role and complete 80 per cent of their learning in a work environment and 20 per cent of their training ‘off-the-job’ which may be in an education setting.

NHS Employers has a website section about apprenticeships as well as case studies and resources to support delivery of apprenticeships in practice.

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