Young people are the future: how can recruiters encourage more of them to join the NHS workforce?

This content relates to the following topics:

Despite being one of the biggest employers in England, only 6 per cent of the NHS workforce is under 25. The average age of staff in the NHS tends to be towards the mid-40s, partly because the NHS has a larger proportion of jobs that require professional qualifications than some other sectors.

While the data isn’t comprehensive (particularly for primary care) it does show that things are getting worse. Although there has been an increase in the number of people under 30 filling some clinical roles (such as nursing, midwifery and health visiting), there has been a decrease in the number working in non-clinical support roles meaning that, overall, the proportion of people under 30 has gone down. 

With more than 350 careers available in the NHS and a workforce crisis that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the NHS can benefit from focusing its attention on providing employment for young people. Last year The Prince’s Trust commissioned The King’s Fund to explore the role of young people in the NHS workforce. We wanted to understand what helps or hinders the NHS recruit people under 30. This included running a series of in-depth interviews with people from across the NHS to get their views on young people’s participation in the health sector. 

Four themes emerged from our work, which we think those responsible for recruitment, retention and workforce planning in the NHS should think about to support more young people into employment in the NHS. 

  • Young people are not always aware of the breadth of roles and opportunities available within the NHS and NHS organisations could do much more to communicate those opportunities.
  • Young people might need more support with the application process —we heard how daunting the NHS jobs portal can be, and that the requirement to provide a covering statement may be challenging for some young people.   
  • Collaborating with other organisations who work with young people, particularly, those with smaller workforces, might be a good way for the NHS to develop career opportunities and pathways for young people. 
  • Supporting young people to enter the NHS workforce, and to stay in it, might require additional management time and unless that time is prioritised it may be difficult for line managers to provide this support. 

We also heard how some NHS organisations are trialling new ways of attracting younger people into their workforces. Some NHS providers have partnered with local colleges and youth organisations to provide ‘outreach’ services, bringing young people into the NHS and offering them classroom-based skills work and eventually offering them work experience. 

We’re getting absolutely brilliant results, we’ve got 40 young people engaged in that [work experience in the NHS], cohorts of ten, so we’ve just finished 20, 17 of whom who have landed either in a job or in employment… we were thinking about 33 per cent, we’re hitting 70 per cent.  
(Youth organisation manager)

Another way NHS trusts can support young people is through a tailored induction programme. One trust we spoke to had developed an induction programme for young members of staff, jointly developed between the NHS trust, the local college, local banks and young people themselves. This new tailored programme included a tour of the hospital, a buddying system with previous apprentices and a team-building day based around gardening in the hospital grounds. The trust found that having this induction programme – tailored towards young people – led to better retention of young staff.

While the insights from employers and national bodies are a critical part of understanding the factors that affect younger people’s participation in the health and care workforce, it is vital to gather and understand the views of younger people directly to further understand their specific needs when entering the health care workforce. 


Gerry Fionda

Southtyneside and Sunderland NHS Trust
Comment date
20 February 2022

The visibility of Starter career possibilities with in the NHS is minimal. There is a disconnect which is preventing a large number of potentially trainable individuals starting within the organisation.
Late developers, none academically minded individuals and people who for what ever reason don't believe they are suitable for employment within the NHS.
A new approach is necessary to inpowewer enlighten and encourage this vast potential workforce to consider joining the NHS.

Ellie Georgia …

Project Coordinator,
The Dudley Group Foundation Trust
Comment date
15 February 2022

I started my career in the NHS from the young age of 16 as an Apprentice. I feel that there is plenty of administration apprenticeships, however not enough clinical apprenticeships and therefore less recruitment into the NHS. We as a Trust support individuals from outside of the country to have the funding to work within our NHS Trust and gain a clinical degree. I think this is great and I believe it would be beneficial to the local community/college leavers and young adults also. I would have became a Nurse if I could have been paid a wage also by the NHS. I don't live from a family that can support me financially to go to University. We are missing out on so many local people from making it really though to get a degree and then join a Trust. We could offer apprenticeships (which are funded from Government pay) and support the local community getting clinical jobs within the NHS.

Add your comment