There are plenty of challenges with NHS recruitment that are outside recruiters’ control. But there’s also plenty you can do to improve recruitment:
- Widen your talent pool by recruiting for values
- Emphasise early careers recruitment
- Choose recruitment software with heaps of automation
- Capitalise on economies of scale
- Make managers’ lives easier to reduce clinical time recruiting
Let’s unpack them.
The NHS has been “beset by chronic workforce shortages [since] inception”. But despite endless pleas for help, the NHS’ recruitment challenges continue to worsen.
- Sixteen years ago, a leaked government planning document warned the outlook for NHS staff numbers was “very volatile”. Forecasts then suggested the NHS would need 14,000 more nurses and 1200 more family doctors by 2010.
- Five years ago, the King’s Fund predicted the shortfall of NHS staff could reach 350,000 by 2030.
- Today, longstanding NHS consultant David Oliver warns that “failings in workforce recruitment, retention, and planning are the biggest existential threat to the NHS.”
There are complex issues at play, of course.
Chronic underfunding. Government-imposed employment conditions. Spiralling demand. Brexit. The disproportionate mental health impact of the pandemic on healthcare workers. Long healthcare training times. Immigration policy and barriers to international recruitment.
(The King’s Fund’s recent analysis into persistent NHS staffing shortages does a great job of unpicking the socio-political context here).
These are big, meaty problems: we know solving them isn’t on you. NHS recruiters are doing an incredible job in an extremely challenging situation.
But recruiters do play an important role.
- You can’t magic up funding where none has been granted. But you can make your recruitment processes and systems work harder, to do more with less.
- You can’t compel more students to study nursing or decrease qualification times. But you can make sure your job adverts reach the most people possible and encourage great people to apply.
- You can’t ignore the NHS Employment Check Standards. But you can deliver flexible, digital, modern recruitment workflows that tick the right boxes as fast as possible.
Let’s talk about some of that stuff you and your team can do, to build a recruitment process that’s as effective and efficient as possible.
How NHS recruiters can tackle healthcare recruitment challenges
1. Widen your talent pool by recruiting for values
NHS England points out that “people often feel a lack of qualifications to be a doctor or nurse bars them from working in the NHS” but that belief isn’t true.
“Many people have lived experience of providing care or possess the right transferrable skills [and] demonstrate the right caring and compassionate values” to make excellent healthcare support workers (HCSWs).
Hiring more people from atypical backgrounds into healthcare is a three-pronged challenge for recruiters:
- How do you reach more people?
Are you advertising in the right places? Could you develop out-of-home recruitment marketing campaigns to reach certain audiences? How could you widen entry routes into healthcare? Do you have an active presence on social media?
For example, North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust widened participation in HCSW roles by developing a ‘Career Confidence’ apprenticeship programme with clear career pathways.
- How do you assess candidates for values?
Does your recruitment assessment process support values-based recruitment? Do your interviews allow the right skills and qualities to shine, rather than just emphasising qualifications?
(If you don’t already, video interviewing can make good sense for healthcare recruitment. Video interviews give you a truer sense of how candidates come across, without adding weeks to your process.)
For example, the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust runs assessment days for apprentice clinical support workers, using scenarios like caring for a patient in pain.
- How do you attract candidates to a career in healthcare?
Do your job adverts bring a career with the trust to life? Could you use staff ambassadors or day-in-the-life type videos to show candidates what to expect? Are your job adverts written in a fair, inclusive way that doesn’t put anyone off applying?
For example, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust use the video below to support with recruiting healthcare support workers 👇
2. Emphasise early careers recruitment
NHS staff shortages are exacerbated by an ageing workforce and a particularly high turnover rate among younger workers. Analysis from Skills for Care found that social care turnover among workers aged under 20 was 42%, for instance.
Growing your talent pipeline by engaging with younger workers is critical. Building relationships with schools and colleges can help recruiters in the NHS engage with great early career talent.
Your recruitment software should support outreach like this, making it simple to pull candidates into talent pools for the future and create targeted nurture campaigns.
3. Choose software with heaps of automation
One of the big barriers to NHS recruitment is a slow, clunky process. Our NHS Business Development Manager, Hayley Reeves, puts it this way:
NHS recruiters have the toughest job right now and are feeling the pressure of every department, with staff shortages, staff retention and staff absence amplifying the already candidate-short market. Speeding up processes through automated communications and reminders, automated targeted recruitment campaigns, and effective seamless and engaging onboarding will reduce attrition and significantly decrease costs
Even in the NHS where your hands are tied by lengthy mandatory employment checks, a faster, more efficient process is realistic.
Look for software that understands the check standards requirements and automates and digitises the process, so there’s minimal manual intervention needed.
This could shave days off your recruitment process (if not weeks) so fewer candidates drop out. And keeps costs down, so you make the most of the stretched budget you do have…
Talking of NHS Employment Check Standards… take a leaf out of Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust’s book and create a guide for candidates.
Especially for workers who are new to the NHS, the process can seem confusing and complex. Good communication is critical to a good candidate experience, helping your applicants understand what’s happening and why the process might take longer than they’ve experienced before.
Also look for software with better recruitment reporting, so you can truly understand your recruitment process and easily spot places you can improve. Poor data visibility is a massive issue for many healthcare recruitment teams and stops you from grabbing quick-win improvements.
Plus, better reporting helps you show the improvements you’ve made and prove the impact you’ve had.
4. Deliver an excellent candidate experience
When you’re recruiting at that scale and you’re also battling severe talent shortages, you can’t afford to deliver a poor candidate experience. Leave candidates with a sour taste in their mouth and you’ll make your existing problems worse:
- More application dropouts
- More no-shows for interviews and first days
- More chasing for missing or incomplete info
- Longer time-to-hire
- More unfilled vacancies
- More money spent with agencies
- Worsening reputation and employer brand
- Fewer applications
- And so on…
On the flipside, delivering a great candidate experience gives you a major edge:
- Increased application completions
- Happier candidates – and new hires
- Less early turnover
- Faster time-to-hire
- Better employer brand
- More applications
- More successfully filled vacancies
The right recruitment software makes delivering a great candidate experience simple and automatic, even when you process hundreds of thousands of applications
Improving the candidate experience was a major reason The Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust changed their recruitment tech. Read more about this ongoing project.
5. Make managers’ lives easier
Clinical staff are already overwhelmed, understaffed, and overburdened without recruitment adding to their plate. But too often, recruitment teams and hiring managers don’t collaborate effectively, leading to bottlenecks, crossed wires, rushed interviews, poor-fit hires, poor candidate experience, extra work, and loss of control over the recruitment process.
Recruiters can start solving these problems through:
- Empowerment: arm managers with easy mobile recruitment software that makes consistent, compliant recruitment much simpler and faster, on-the-go.
- Accountability: use recruitment data to show the impact of individual and team actions and campaigns, to spot where managers need more support.
Tribepad’s talent acquisition tech has loads of features to make managers’ lives easier and reduce clinical time to recruit – like heaps of templates, at-a-glance summaries, secure mobile access and bulk actions. Plus robust process and permissions guardrails, so it’s near-impossible to go off-piste and mess the process up.
The NHS faces major workforce challenges that need far-reaching coherent strategic action from leaders, policy-makers and parliamentarians. But voices have been calling for such action for years, and little has been forthcoming.
The right recruitment processes, systems and software are critical to support NHS recruiters – and the patients you support too — to keep doing what you do best despite these frustrations, roadblocks and constraints. The wider landscape might be difficult but frontline recruiters can rise to the challenge!
Tribepad is the trusted tech ally to smart(er) recruiters everywhere. Our talent acquisition software is a springboard for faster, fairer, better recruitment for everyone. Trusted by organisations like Bupa, Signature, NHS Professionals, Turning Point, and HCRG Care Group, 25-million people in 16 languages use our talent platform.