Healthcare sector professions in the UK provide a workforce of close to 2 million – a great many of these job opportunities fall within the NHS. We talked to Alan Simmons, NHS Careers Adviser and Working Adviser member, about what careers in the NHS can offer and what developments are underway for the future.
Alan, can you tell us a bit about your own career?
I trained as a careers officer in the early 80s at the long defunct Kent College for the Careers Service and got my first job at the LEA-run Avon Careers Service. During the years I spent here I held several managerial and specialist roles, including developing CIAG in two FE colleges and advising on options in higher education.
So how did you end up working for the NHS?
I joined NHS Careers as its senior careers adviser in 1999 – actually I was the only careers adviser! The service was very much in its infancy then and I was responsible for researching new career areas within the NHS and managing the contact centre staff team handling enquiries from the public. I’ve remained with NHS Careers as a careers specialist through its moves to the COI (government agency) in 2004, NHS Employers in 2012 and, most recently, Health Education England.
Tell us about your day-to-day role?
My role is varied. I’ve been involved in re-modelling NHS Careers literature and its various websites and supporting the contact centre team in terms of the quality and validity of information it provides. I also contribute to the strategic development of the NHS Careers service as it evolves in the changing NHS landscape and embraces social media as a key communication channel. It all feels very different to when I used to interview up to 12 students a day at school!
What are the main changes you’ve seen in the healthcare careers sector?
Apart from the many structural changes to the NHS – such as contracting out of certain services, social enterprises and others now providing NHS healthcare – I think the main changes have been the emergence of more streamlined pathways in a number of careers such as healthcare science and the allied health professions.
A key change was the move to degree-only entry for nursing and midwifery – and the removal of the diploma programme. Others changes include the up-skilling of roles such as operating department practitioner; graduate-entry programmes in a number of professions including medicine and dentistry; new opportunities in the psychological therapies and more apprenticeships coming on stream across the breadth of health-related careers.
The move away from hospital to more community-based care and the long-term impact of reports such as the Francis Enquiry and the 5-year Forward Review will all result in changes to the way healthcare is delivered by sector staff in the future.
What, if any, are the current skills shortage areas?
Haematologists (doctors), therapeutic radiographers, psychiatrists and theatre nurses are all on the current Border Agency’s Shortage Occupations list.
Health Education England is responsible for workforce planning in England and in December it published its Workforce Plan for England. It gives details of education commissioning and numbers of training places. The Plan takes into account the changing ways that healthcare is being delivered, as outlined in the recently published 5-year Forward View. Some of the key points include over 500 additional training places in adult learning, 100 plus additional training places in operating department practice, 378 additional places in paramedic training as well as over 180 extra places for physician associates trainees and Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT).
What about developments or new initiatives at NHS Careers?
The main exciting development for 2015 will be the launch of our new ‘Health Careers’ website. The new site will incorporate the best careers information from the NHS Careers, Medical Careers and PHORCaST (public health careers) websites – including the NHS Careers coursefinder.
In addition to that it will include a registered section allowing users to search and save content; a role comparison tool with information on hundreds of health roles and a search functionality allowing visitors to identify content by career group such as nursing, medicine or public health.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in the NHS?
There are lots of myths out there so do your research properly. Also, familiarise yourself with the NHS values – they’re part of the NHS Constitution – you’ll be asked to show how you live these if you apply for a job, apprenticeship or an NHS-funded university course.
Finally, what can careers professionals do to help promote NHS careers?
Remember that careers in the health sector stretch well beyond nursing and medicine. There are more than 350 careers in the NHS including health informaticians, surveyors, gardeners, catering staff and chaplains for example, as well as allied health professionals – such as orthotists, therapeutic radiographers and occupational therapists etc, 50,000 scientists and more. There really is something for everyone with the right values and skills. Refer your clients or users to our website and invite them to get in touch.
Alan Simmons remains the only careers adviser at NHS Careers. He is a full member of the Career Development Institute and on the Professional Register as well as a Working Adviser verified member.
If you’re attending any of the forthcoming National Career Guidance Shows in Leeds, London and Leicester, make sure you visit the NHS stand and attend Alan’s seminar. Visit the Shows’ website for details