Better Learners Better Workers NHS Programme at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals

Yvonne Byrne is Community Engagement Manager at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.  Believed to be the largest of the NHS Foundation Trusts in the UK, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals provide over 900,000 appointments and operations each year, as well as clinical education for medical students from the University of Sheffield.

Yvonne’s role is all about generating and supporting an interest in healthcare careers, from primary school through to 19 year olds. With an ageing workforce, Yvonne believes that it is vital to prepare young people for the many and varied opportunities for employment in the NHS: “We need to nurture the next generation of talent for the jobs we believe in and jobs that we will need in the future that don’t even exist yet.

“I often say the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust is like a small village, with all the different employment opportunities that go with that. For example, we have an Apprenticeship scheme in Administration, so it was a logical step to try to start earlier informing young people and helping to prepare them for our Apprenticeship opportunities.”

The Better Learners Better Workers programme, designed to develop the attitude and skills that employers have identified they need whilst students are still at school, has become a key part of Yvonne’s outreach work in the community. It was first introduced into Sheffield Teaching Hospitals by Trust Chairman, Tony Pedder, OBE, in order to provide a first rung on the career progression ladder and to widen participation. Yvonne was responsible for developing the programme; three secondary schools started and there are now six involved.

Yvonne believes the success of the scheme lies in setting the bar high for those lucky enough to participate: “We have high expectations for all the Better Learners Better Workers.  They have to turn up for sessions on time, email me not the school if they can’t attend, and behave professionally at all times.  I tell them that when they cross the threshold of the hospital, they become honorary members of staff. We had a treasure hunt recently and despite the excitement the students were exemplary.”

The Better Learners Better Workers programme includes a monthly training session, periodically a full study day on a theme, and at least one specialist work experience opportunity for each of the Ambassadors.

Yvonne sees the Better Learners Better Workers every month from 3.30-5.30pm throughout their two to thee year progress, which builds relationships with both the schools and the students.  “If problems arise with a young person, such as attendance, we work with the school in a tri-partite arrangement and come up with an action plan.  It works.

“The scheme has a definite impact; the students develop better learning behaviours.  In the beginning, we just had the top stream, but in the second year we introduced a different recruitment process and now we have a mix of academic and vocational students. We’ve been able to develop aspirations in students from different backgrounds.  In fact, in some cases, schools use the pupil premium to help fund the programme.”

Yvonne believes the Better Learners Better Workers programme has brought the Trust a number of benefits, not least the ability to embrace more Apprenticeships. “Staff in the different work areas enjoy having young people in, they give a fresh pair of eyes.  Young people make suggestions, which they take on board. It’s good for staff to recognise that young people are talented because teenagers get a bad press, especially the 14-17 year olds.  The Better Learners Better Workers are a breath of fresh air; they’re dynamic, they bring a different flavour to the organisation and they have a lot to offer. For example, a group of Ambassadors from Westfield School did a presentation on oncology services to one of our top specialists, and he said it was one of the best presentations he had ever heard!”

The scheme has been such a success internally that staff are now offering the Ambassadors work experience.  Yvonne says, “The staff actively enjoy having the Ambassadors, even though it means extra work.  They have to put together a two-week timetable that has to be approved, then they have to risk assess all areas. It’s become part of the way we operate in Sheffield Teaching Hospitals.”

Francesca Clarke, age 18, participated in the Better Learners Better Workers healthcare programme working with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.  She now works at the Northern General Hospital after completing the programme and then taking on a Level 2 Business Administration Apprenticeship with the hospital which led to her current role as a Clerical Assistant.

For Francesca, the two-week work experience was the highlight of her time as a Better Learners Better Workers Ambassador: “I worked with the Clinical Engineering Department and I gained experience at the Hallamshire Hospital, some at the Jessop’s and some at the Children’s Hospital. We did things such as building blood pressure machines and testing the new thermometers that came in to make sure they could go out to be used. I kept a log of all the things I did and the skills I’d used, then typed it up and it became part of my Better Learners Better Workers Skills Passport.”

Francesca believes that her communication skills were improved on the programme: “I feel that I’ve become more confident now.  Before, in an interview I’d be really shy and I couldn’t give eye contact because I felt really awkward. Now, if I was to go to an interview I’d feel like I’d be able to do it more confidently. The communication skills also help you on the phone and when people come to the reception desk and you’re meeting face to face. I feel like I came out of my shell a bit more.”

Going forward Francesca plans to study the NVQ Level 3 in Business and Administration.  Whilst she doesn’t know where she wants to go with her career, she highly recommends the Better Learners Better Workers programme as a starting point: “It opens another door. If you don’t know what you want to do it still helps you. I’m happy with where I am because I feel like I’m doing something and I’m achieving something every day. Somebody could just phone up and want to change an appointment and we’ll have a chat and you feel like you’ve made someone’s day a bit better.  It’s things like that which make it a rewarding job.”

Better Learners Better Workers