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NSFT to tell young people about the advantages of apprenticeships

​Thousands of people will next week – National Apprenticeship Week (4-8 March) – be invited to consider careers at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

The Trust currently has about 180 staff undertaking apprenticeships – including 61-year-old Falklands War veteran Merv Hines (pictured and see case study below) – and in December last year was praised by a Government minister for being “one of the top performing apprenticeship employers in the country”.

NSFT staff will take part in the Norfolk Skills & Careers Festival at the Norfolk Showground at Easton, near Norwich, on Wednesday and Thursday next week (6-7 March), the fourth year of the event for 14-24 year olds from Norfolk.

Jane Stringer, NSFT Apprenticeship Lead, said: “We’ll be talking about the variety of different careers in the NHS and at our Trust, but the main emphasis will be on apprenticeships, both clinical and non-clinical.

“They offer an alternative pathway for people who do not want to go down the college or university route.

“Apprenticeships provide opportunities for people to learn while they earn and develop skills that will help them to progress and develop their careers.”

The Trust has offered apprenticeships since 2010, and their number and range have expanded over the years.

Staff who are recruited to the organisation as apprentices undertake apprenticeships of 13-18 months. Existing staff undertaking higher or degree level apprenticeships, such as assistant practitioner or nursing degree apprenticeships, can expect to be on a programme for 24-27 months.

All apprenticeships involve on and off the job training, and apprentices attend study days with their training provider and carry out their own research in protected study time.

In a letter to Jane dated 11 December, Anne Milton, Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, said: “As one of the top performing apprenticeship employers in the country, I wanted to write to thank you personally for your commitment, enthusiasm and drive for apprenticeships.

“You have clearly taken advantage of the reforms by growing high quality apprenticeship programmes over the past year, benefitting your . . . apprentices, and indeed the economy as a whole.”

The 12th National Apprenticeship Week, which this year has a theme of “Blaze A Trail”, is being co-ordinated by the National Apprenticeship Service and is designed to celebrate apprenticeships and the positive impact they have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy.

* Current apprenticeship vacancies at NSFT are posted on the NHS Jobs website and on

Caption: Apprentice Merv Hines is pictured at work at the Silverwood Child and Family Centre at Northgate Hospital, Great Yarmouth.

Case study: Merv Hines
The word “apprentice” tends to conjure up images of fresh-faced youngsters – and not a 61-year-old Falklands War veteran.

But Merv Hines, an apprentice receptionist at the Silverwood Child and Family Centre at Northgate Hospital, Great Yarmouth, breaks the mould.

He served 16 years as a Royal Marine Commando and saw service all over the world, including during the Falklands War, and has also been a publican and shop owner. But after about 100 failed job applications, he tasted success when he applied for his current role.

“I’d read about the Equality Act somewhere so I knew I couldn’t be discriminated against on the grounds of age, but I was still surprised when I got it,” he said. “I love it, particularly interacting with people, and I enjoy the crowd I work with.

“I’ve also learnt so much. I’d worked in admin many years ago but my office skills had got rusty and I’ve picked up new, softer skills to help me deal better with people.”

Merv’s apprenticeship began in May last year. In addition to being a receptionist, he spends four hours a week studying for his Level 2 Business Administration Apprenticeship and will take exams in Maths and English before his apprenticeship finishes in mid-August.

Case study: Bekah Tavendale
While studying for her GCSEs, Bekah Tavendale was not clear what she wanted to do for a career, although she did think about teaching and finance.

Her father encouraged her to consider an apprenticeship in the NHS but Bekah was dismissive because she was not keen on the idea of working clinically.

Her father pointed out there is an army of “back office” staff who do valuable work to support the clinical teams. So, in September 2017, shortly after her 16th birthday, Bekah joined the “army” and began a one-year apprenticeship as a business administrator for NSFT, based at Endeavour House, Ipswich.

“Being an apprentice was very different from school but I very much enjoyed coming into the world of work,” she said. “I have found it very interesting and have met many different people who have supported me and given me many opportunities to progress.

“Each day is different – as well as doing your day-to-day tasks, you never know who you will hear from, who will send you an email or who you will help in the office.

“I get a satisfying feeling when I log off from my computer at the end of the day, knowing what I have done, big or small, has made a difference to the people who use our services.”

Bekah spent two days a week working for NSFT’s Financial Services department and the remaining three days for the Commercial Resources department, which involves non-clinical contracts. After completing her apprenticeship, she successfully applied for a Team Administrator post, supporting the same departments.

“I am very grateful I was offered this role,” she said. “It is a satisfying feeling completing your apprenticeship with an organisation and for your management to encourage you to go for a permanent role.”

Case study: Luke Rivens
IT technician Luke Rivens is proof of the many career opportunities that can open up after completing an apprenticeship.

Since finishing an 18-month Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) apprenticeship at NSFT in August 2016 after just eight months, there has been no holding him back.

Luke successfully applied for an ICT Service Desk post at Hellesdon Hospital and progressed further when he was appointed in January this year to his current job as an ICT Field Support Technician, a role that takes him all over Norfolk to help colleagues with more difficult IT issues that cannot be resolved remotely over the phone. Now his sights are set on becoming an IT project facilitator and, eventually, an IT project manager.

“I’ve always regarded myself as a people person and really enjoy meeting people face-to-face,” said Luke, 23.

“When I was at school, there was a stigma attached to apprenticeships. Some students were reluctant to do one because they felt they were only for people who couldn’t get good grades.

“But in my experience, an apprenticeship can open doors to a fulfilling career path whereas I’ve got friends who graduated from university and then struggled for years to get a job.”

After university, Luke found an IT job with a large private employer in Norwich but there were no opportunities for career development and progression, so he applied for an ICT apprenticeship at NSFT after seeing it on the NHS Jobs website.

As well as spending time with various IT teams all over Norfolk and Suffolk during his apprenticeship, Luke shadowed the Chief Executive and Medical Director to help give him a better understanding of the Trust.

Case study: Bex Bilham
Assistant practitioner (AP) Bex Bilham is an excellent example of how NSFT is using apprenticeships to develop its own staff.

Originally recruited after A-levels in September 2015 onto a one-year healthcare assistant apprenticeship, during which time she also studied for an NVQ Level 2 in Health and Social Care from Norwich City College, Bex has, in addition, already completed a two-year AP foundation degree.

And this month, she started a two-year nursing apprenticeship degree from the University of Suffolk which she will do while continuing to work as an AP with the Central Norfolk Dementia Intensive Support Team (DIST), based at the Julian Hospital, Norwich.

In common with many NHS trusts, NSFT is short of Band 5 registered nurses – the banding of newly-qualified nurses – but in just two years Bex will be able to join their ranks.

“The phrase that the Trust’s Apprenticeship Lead Jane Stringer uses is ‘growing our own staff’ and apprenticeships are a good way to do that,” she said. “I’m very grateful for the many opportunities the Trust has given me.

“When I left school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I was more interested in mental health than physical health because I did an A-level in psychology. I was also looking for work where I’d be able to build up my level of experience and develop my career.

“At the beginning, it was quite overwhelming but I liked it from the first day because my colleagues were very supportive and I enjoyed being part of a team. There are some very good nurses at our Trust and my ambition now is to be one of them.”

Bex has gained wide experience over the past 3½ years and is keen to develop her career further at NSFT after she qualifies as a nurse. She particularly enjoys supporting service users in their own homes and plans to focus on community nursing.

Case study: Michael Jenkins
Michael Jenkins has exceptional levels of first-hand expertise of apprenticeships at NSFT – he has already completed one apprenticeship to qualify as an assistant practitioner and has just embarked on a second to become a mental health nurse.

At 38, his career has had many twists and turns. His first job after leaving school with just one GCSE was as an apprentice truck mechanic – an apprenticeship which he did not complete – and during his eight years at NSFT he has had a variety of roles, including as a storeman, library assistant, data technician / receptionist, peer support worker and senior support worker. He has also gained a Level 2 and Level 3 NVQ in Business Administration.

“When I worked as a data technician / receptionist, I enjoyed observing the work of clinical staff and really respected what they did,” he said.

“Many years ago, I had mental health difficulties of my own and spent time as an inpatient, and this experience has helped me in my Assistant Practitioner role, and I’m sure it will help as a I train towards becoming a qualified nurse.

“The Trust has been supportive of me, and my ambition is to simply make a positive difference to the lives of patients so they can lead a meaningful life, with or without symptoms.”

During his two-year nursing degree apprenticeship, Michael will continue to work as an assistant practitioner for the Central Norfolk Crisis Resolution Home Treatment (CRHT) team, based at Hellesdon Hospital, but he will also study at the University of Suffolk and undertake a variety of placements to broaden his nursing experience.

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