Kent NHS trust tackles workforce woes through apprenticeship schemes

With health sector vacancies at a record high, one NHS trust in Kent is battling back by offering more than 300 fully-paid apprenticeships, from nursing to administrators

Last year, 76 people enrolled onto apprenticeships at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust (KCHFT). They joined an army of colleagues already on apprenticeship programmes, including registered nurses, nurse associates, physiotherapists, dental nurses, occupational therapists, business administrators and chartered managers.
Margaret Daly, deputy director of people and organisational development at KCHFT, said: “Apprenticeships provide an excellent way to earn, gain work experience and achieve nationally-recognised qualifications at the same time. They are not just for those starting a career, but also for those switching careers or wanting to further their learning and development.
“Over the past five years we’ve more than doubled the number of apprenticeships we offer, including 26 different programmes ranging from level two to level seven Master’s degrees. Our promise is to offer rewarding careers that attract, develop and retain talented people from all backgrounds.”

Career change
When physiotherapy apprentice, Paul Rothwell, 37, from Kings Hill, was made redundant from his design job, it sparked a complete career change.
“I spent seven years in design and sales when I was made redundant during lockdown. It was challenging at the time, but ultimately it set me back on a career path I thought I’d left behind. It got me questioning what I would do if I could go back in time and choose a different degree. I would have chosen physiotherapy. I’d always been into fitness and exercise and I’d even qualified as a personal trainer, but it was always just a hobby.”
When a role came up at KCHFT for a therapy assistant at Tonbridge Cottage Hospital, Paul had the skills to successfully apply.
“I worked there for two years with the ambition of getting enough experience to apply for a physio apprenticeship as soon as it came up, which is exactly what I did. It was tough though, having a unique career background meant I had to be really thorough in outlining my experience and skills. I was incredibly grateful to my manager who supported me through the application and interview stages.”
Paul will qualify as a physiotherapist in four years’ time on completion of his apprenticeship programme.

Benefits to the team and the apprentice
Sheree Kempton is community hospital therapy lead at Tonbridge Cottage Hospital and is Paul’s manager. She says that having apprentices in the team is extremely valuable.
“They are a real asset to the team and it gives the opportunity for senior therapists to share their knowledge and experience. One of the brilliant things about apprenticeships is you gain vital clinical experience throughout the course, not just while on placements.”
Unable to commit to a full-time university course, Lauren Shaba, 28, from Ashford, wasn’t sure how realistic her dream of becoming a nurse was until she saw the nursing degree apprenticeship opportunity at KCHFT and successfully applied.
Now in her final year of the four-year programme, Lauren encourages others to consider an apprenticeship as a way of achieving their goals.
“My advice to anyone is to ask as many questions as possible. Having the option to work whilst studying allows you to develop the practical skills you need for your chosen profession while completing the qualification, which can only be a positive.”

Four years, ago James Page, 36, swapped a career in teaching to train as an occupational therapist. Now he’s almost fully qualified and has a job already waiting for him, thanks to an apprenticeship with KCHFT’s Clinical Academy.

As part of the programme, James had the opportunity to experience a split placement which involved the design and development of a wellbeing garden at the trust’s Heathside Centre in Coxheath.
“It was a really exciting project and the idea behind it was to provide OT students, like me, with innovative placements where we can put our learning into practice. I was involved in the initial research stage and was able to apply my occupational therapy skills to look at how people interact with their working environments to create a really fantastic wellbeing space for the trust and it’s service users too.”

New skills
Apprenticeships aren’t just for people starting a new career.
Passionate about supporting young people to be happy and healthy, Andy McKechnie swapped his role in teaching two years ago to join KCHFT’s East Sussex School Health Team as operations manager. Now he’s embracing new skills through a two-year Systems Thinking Apprenticeship to broaden his skills even further.
“I’m really interested in understanding how different systems work and the way in which people work together to improve outcomes. This course is really helping to develop my problem-solving skills and I’ve been really supported by my manager and team. It’s been great to be able to bring this new learning straight into practice.”
Being a positive role model for her children and having more self-confidence are just two reasons why 37-year-old Hayley Marcham, catering compliance manager at Tonbridge Cottage Hospital, is completing her second apprenticeship at the trust.
“It’s been so rewarding to develop new skills and it’s helped me understand what I’m capable of. As a result, I’ve had more confidence to push myself and take on new challenges at work.”
For Hayley, the chance to study for a degree in chartered management also offered an opportunity to achieve something outside of work.
“I really love my job in facilities, but the apprenticeship gives me time to focus on me and my personal development. It also has a really positive impact on my children. They’re immensely proud that their mummy works in the NHS and they think it’s brilliant that I’ve gone back to ‘school’.”
KCHFT is one of the largest NHS community health providers in England, serving a population of about 1.4 million across Kent and 600,000 in East Sussex and London. It employs more than 5,000 staff, including doctors, community nurses, physiotherapists, dietitians and many other healthcare professionals.
The trust provides wide-ranging NHS care for people in the community, in a range of settings including people’s own homes; nursing homes; health clinics; community hospitals; minor injury units and in mobile units.