Better Learners Better Workers NHS Programme at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals

Yvonne Byrne is Community Engagement Coordinator 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 and it has proved consistently popular with local secondary schools.

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 three 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.”


Better Learners Better Workers