Working at Weston College for two years has taught me that innovation is often the key to solving seemingly intractable problems.
One of the most pressing challenges we faced as I started, and which the entire country grappled with, was the significant strain on the NHS due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Yet, in the face of adversity, I’ve witnessed an awe-inspiring meeting of need, opportunity, and solution: Our sector-based work academies (SWAPs).
The NHS’s unprecedented demand for vaccinations met the challenge of a stretched workforce. How could we bridge this gap? The answer lay in a programme designed to harness the potential of an often-overlooked demographic: the unemployed.
At its core, the SWAPs model is straightforward. It’s about matching immediate employment needs with short courses tailored for the unemployed. This not only provides job seekers with essential employability skills but also presents employers with a pre-trained workforce.
A SWAP typically runs for up to six weeks. It starts with an employability training week where learners are supported with the basic soft and hard skills they’ll require in their roles. What follows is a focused curriculum tailored to the specific needs of the partnering employer.
In our collaboration with the NHS, this entailed comprehensive training adapted to their requirements. But the real magic of the programme lies beyond the classroom. In week two learners are given first-hand experience through interactions with their potential employers, explaining what it’s really like to work for the NHS.
After successful completion of the course, participants move on to interview stages with the NHS, transforming their career paths and, in many cases, their lives.
Our collaboration began with Somerset NHS. But the success we achieved there has led us to start a similar pilot in Bristol.
The reception and results in Somerset are not just a source of pride for us at Weston College but also a testament to the power of collaboration and innovative thinking.
Engaging with the Job Centre and their dedicated job coaches played a pivotal role in our journey. In a sea of competing training providers, distinguishing ourselves was crucial. Our unique approach was to work with the job coaches themselves – understand their pressures and create a specific landing page on our website that the job coaches could use in front of their clients – our potential learners.
We then aimed to contact every enquirer within a 24-hour window, ensuring we were responsive and attentive to potential learners’ needs. This swift communication strategy cut through the noise and positioned us as a reliable and efficient partner.
Since the programme started in April 2021 Weston College has trained 470 learners as part of the NHS SWAP programme. Of these, 384 progressed to the NHS induction programme.
To put a monetary value to the project, the SWAP courses saved the public purse over £15,000 for each unemployed individual who secured work. This savings calculation takes into account the average public costs over a year and equates to £3.9 million in social return on investment.
These numbers aren’t just statistics; they represent lives changed, families supported and communities strengthened.
The qualifications we offer through the SWAP are with Gateway Qualifications: awards in health and care and mental health awareness, and a certificate in vocational studies. They equip our learners with the skills and knowledge required for the start of their journey with the NHS.
In reflecting on our journey, I’m reminded of the Thursday nights during the pandemic when communities would come together, clapping in unison to express gratitude for the relentless workers of the NHS. Those moments captured a collective desire to help and make a difference.
Through this particular SWAP, many have found a way to channel this desire into action, contributing to the NHS and transforming their own lives.
I believe the success of our SWAPs initiative underscores a larger lesson. It highlights the power of collaboration, the importance of swift and strategic action and the boundless potential that lies in tapping into untapped resources.
As we continue to evolve and expand our efforts at Weston College, I’m filled with hope and excitement for the countless lives we’ll touch and the numerous challenges we’ll overcome together.