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A flexible partnership to grow the local nursing workforce

A few years ago, the Isle of Wight NHS Trust (IOW NHS Trust) decided to change its recruitment strategy in order grow its local nursing workforce. The numbers of nursing professionals was declining on the island and opportunity to qualify was somewhat limited, so the Trust partnered up with The Open University (OU) to offer a new flexible educational route through the Apprenticeship Levy. This approach to workforce planning has proved hugely successful and the IOW NHS Trust currently has 76 apprentices studying for Nursing Associate and Registered Nurse apprenticeship qualifications.

“This is a key part of our resourcing and recruitment strategy,” says Donna Parkinson, Head of Education at the IOW NHS Trust.

We had an extraordinary amount of interest in applications and enquiries. When we first put the advert out and put it on social media, it had the most hits we’d ever seen with any of our recruitment.

Donna Parkinson
Head of Education, the Isle of Wight NHS Trust

The IOW NHS Trust serves a population of roughly 150,000 and is unusual in that it is the only integrated acute, community, mental health and ambulance health care provider in England. This means that anyone who undertakes their nursing apprenticeship at the Trust gains exposure to a wide range of services. “Within my training, I worked on the Covid ward for the first part of Covid,” says Kerry Black, a new-qualified Nursing Associate at IOW NHS Trust. “Then coronary care unit theatres, mental health and learning disability teams, so it’s a really wide variety of placements that you can secure on the island.”

Offering the nursing apprenticeship qualifications has enabled the Trust to widen access to learning and reach a more diverse cohort. It has also enabled it to achieve several key recruitment aims – providing opportunities and career pathways to people living in the local community, attracting new recruits to the island, and meeting staffing needs at the same time.

Gemma Cherry, Staff Tutor, The Open University, said: “The IOW team have captured the true essence and foundation of the OU mission and values, to make high quality university education available to all. It is particularly pertinent in this area, especially for those who live and work on the Isle of Wight, as Higher Education (HE) isn’t easily accessible, potential relocation and has significant financial implications.”

Another recruit from the first cohort, Rachel Baker, Nursing Associate at the IOW NHS Trust, is delighted to have been given the opportunity to pursue a career in nursing and without having the leave the island. “I grew up on the island and always wanted to work for the NHS, but there weren’t many opportunities for studying on the island with it - you had to move off and go to university. I knew that wasn’t really for me.”

Studying for the apprenticeship has allowed Rachel to fulfill her lifelong ambition, while staying in and giving back to her local community. “I think it’s important to do training here as I can stay with the community that I grew up in and give back – staying on the island and learning was an important thing for me.” Rachel says she really benefited from the OU’s approach to learning – the practical nature of the content, the level of support provided by tutors and the ability to balance work and study.

To celebrate the nurses completing their apprenticeship and achieving their qualification, the Trust recently held a graduation celebration. Kerry says it feels really special to be part of one of the first cohorts to qualify. Like Rachel, she says the opportunity to train on the island was a big draw, as was the ability to learn and earn at the same time. “Being so close to home and everything being local worked really well,” she says. Also special to Kerry is the fact that her mother is studying with the OU at the same time to become a Registered Nurse.

The OU learning model works for the Trust and it’s not only flexible for employers, but flexible for learners as well. I feel very proud and privileged to be part of this programme.

James Barclay
Learning and Development Officer, the Isle of Wight NHS Trust

Gemma Cherry added: “The OU programme allows those seeking a career in nursing, the opportunity to earn and learn in the workplace, whilst gaining a qualification. It has been a privilege to watch the programme expand from six students in 2017, to the 76 students actively studying now, with many who have already completed their studies and gained their first qualified position as an NMC registrant.

I am proud to be a part of a HE organisation who enable individuals to reach their true potential and goals, and work in collaboration with a likeminded Trust who are innovative and have been inspirational in paving the way to improving the lives of the local residents. Long may our partnership continue to grow and develop and inspire others to reach their career goals.

Gemma Cherry
Staff Tutor, The Open University

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