Five steps to be more like 'Joanna' and push for greater diversity in NHS comms

A long time ago, I remember having sleepless nights worrying about whether I would ever get a job in communications.

Be more like 'Joanna' and create a more diverse team, urges Ranjeet Kaile
Be more like 'Joanna' and create a more diverse team, urges Ranjeet Kaile

I had just graduated in business and marketing and, not being in the lucky position of having family contacts or friends in the sector, I randomly applied to hundreds of roles.

I attended lots of interviews with people in sharp suits at recruitment agencies who somehow left me feeling worse than I did before I walked into the room.

After a series of temp roles, I saw my dream job – a marketing assistant at the London Borough of Hounslow.

I applied, and a very brave soul called Joanna took a punt on an Indian boy from Hayes.

She could have taken the easy option and recruited someone with more experience, or someone more like her.

I still remember the phone call to tell me I got the job, which would change my life forever.

Fast forward 20 years and thanks to many other brave souls who gave me more opportunities to prove myself, I am now in position to be like Joanna and to think about drawing from the rich and diverse talent pool that lays untapped in our local communities.

The easy option isn't always the right option.

Public sector communications needs to understand its diverse audience so it can get under the skin of the real issues and be the voice that asks the tough questions.

The challenge we have is that when you look at some of our communication teams, they're nowhere near as representative as they could be.

We need to change this by creating a ladder for young people who are rich in talent but poor in connections to get their first opportunity working in NHS Communications.

How will we do this?

Five steps

Well, the solution is certainly not rocket science so here is my five step guide to creating a 12-month NHS Communications Trainee Scheme to improve diversity and talent.

Why only 12 months you ask? It's to give the opportunity to as many people as possible and develop a training ground for the next generation of NHS Communication gurus.

Yes of course it requires your time, energy and a certain degree of handholding, but if you are not going to invest then who is?

  • Step 1. Take a look at your structure and how you can change it to create an entry-level job. Do you really need to recruit into that vacant Band 4/5 Comms job, or is this your opportunity to create life-changing Band 2/3 trainee roles instead to bring an extra level of dynamism to your team?
  • Step 2. Good, you've decided to split the Band 5 role into two Band 2 trainee roles. You can use the job description and advert that is available to download on CommsLink to get this through your HR teams' recruitment processes. You should talk to your Apprenticeship lead, as you may find this is another route to fund the role.
  • Step 3. Boom – you're off. We had 42 people apply for our first NHS trainee job. It definitely works – talented people would rather work for you, doing what they dreamed of, than work down the local supermarket worrying about where they will get their big break from. You can organise a two-step recruitment day to get through the process and identify the right candidate for the job.
  • Step 4. OK, so this is great: you have a new trainee for 12 months. Make sure they have a buddy and be realistic about your expectations; help them work towards them and give them the tools and confidence to do the job. Stay in touch regularly – and you may want to have one-to-ones every couple of weeks for the first few months.
  • Step 5. This is the important part. Your new trainee is with you for 12 months and you will want to give them such a rich experience in the NHS that they will want to stay. The wonderful thing is that we can help you organise shadowing days at the Department of Health, NHS England, etc.

Just to be clear on two things: this is the start of the career ladder, and we are working with NHS England, NHS Improvement, NHS Providers and NHS Confed to look at how we can make a communications career ladder all the way from these trainee roles through to a comms director job.

And when I talk about improving the diversity and talent in NHS comms, I don't just mean BAME candidates; I mean diversity in its broadest sense, so that we are casting our net far and wide and reaching people who don't have established networks to give them a step up in life.

Be more like Joanna.

Ranjeet Kaile is director of comms and stakeholder engagement at South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust


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