The Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s initiative Project Choice won the Workforce Award at the 2015 HSJ Awards at Grosvenor House Hotel, London on 18 November.
The Workforce Award, sponsored by NHS Professionals, was presented to The Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for their supported internship programme for people with learning disabilities, difficulties or autism (LDDA). Led by Gateshead College, internships take place in City Hospitals Sunderland, Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS FT, York NHS FT, Tees Esk and Wear Valley NHS FT.
We spoke to Lorna Harasymiuk, project lead (Newcastle Hospitals), to find out more about the great work they have been doing and what their plans for the future are.
Hi Lorna, congratulations on your team’s award! How did it feel to win the Workforce category?
The other finalists were brilliant so we weren’t expecting our project to be named at all. We were already thrilled to be shortlisted let alone win the award.
Tell us a bit about the Project Choice team in Newcastle?
It’s just me as the project lead and a placement support officer but we also rely on the managers in all the departments that support the project. They provide volunteers to act as mentors to support the students, which makes the project work really well.
What aspect of the project do you think makes it work so well?
We have a lot of support from the chief executive as well as the managers, but mainly because everyone who is part of the project wants to be involved. The students are so dedicated and want to make the most of the opportunity they’ve been given. The people who are supporting them want to be there, which also really helps them to succeed. It’s a lovely project to be involved in because you see it go from strength to strength. The success rates have been much higher than we anticipated so more organisations want to get involved with the project, which means more young people will get the opportunity.
You must feel so proud of the students.
Absolutely. My favourite time of the day is when I’m walking around the hospitals and I see them in their everyday work, just getting on with life and being part of the workforce. I feel so proud when I see them, and I’ll always get a ‘hello’. I’ve been working in the NHS for a long time but the last three years, working on this project, has been the best part of my career.
How do you find your candidates?
We have a cycle every year. The first thing we do is promote the project, so I do three or four events and advertise it around the city. I invite people to come along and hear about the project, which involves candidates, schoolteachers, families and people who may want to provide a placement. We also do presentations with past students who are now in employment. About six weeks later, I invite them to an assessment day of fun activities and an interview. We then choose about 12 students to start every September. Students do three placements with trained mentors while they are on the project, and receive an employability certificate. By the end of it, the vast majority go into employment, which is brilliant.
What is an employability certificate?
We work in partnership with Gateshead College, and they provide an NOCN qualification (previously the National Open College Network) in employability skills, which compliments what they learn in the workplace. They also improve their numeracy and literacy qualifications as part of that. Not only do they gain employability skills but they also get the qualifications to back that up, which is great for their CV and moving forward. Gateshead College is doing a fantastic job, they’ve got a fantastic record so we’re pleased with the relationship we have with them.
Do you get feedback from the students?
Yes, that is what makes it so lovely. Watching them change in front of us is fabulous. In the beginning, they often have low self-confidence but you soon see them standing tall having developed their confidence.
We’re continuously asking for feedback, how we can improve or what would help them to learn. It’s the students who tell us what works for them and we learn from them. We also have lovely feedback from the families about how their son or daughter has changed at home and what a great difference it is making to their lives.
What are the plans for the future?
We have other organisations that are interested in offering placements. This award is great for us because it raises our profile and helps us engage with more businesses. We are going to a learning disability event with NHS England in December so we hope to introduce the project on a national scale. Plus, we have just expanded to Yorkshire, which is an incredible milestone for us.
How do you think other trusts could implement the programme, is it easy to replicate?
The model can be picked up and used anywhere but the key is getting board level agreement and support. It certainly can work in other organisations too, not just in the NHS.
Congratulations Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. NHS Professionals was extremely proud to sponsor the Workforce Award at this year’s HSJ Awards.