NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) provide a blood and transplantation service to the NHS, looking after blood donation services in England and transplant services across the UK. This includes managing the donation, storage and transplantation of blood, organs, tissues, bone marrow and stem cells, and researching new treatments and processes.

NHSBT started running an apprenticeship scheme in 2017, then joined the Advanced Therapies Apprenticeship Community (ATAC) programme as one of the original founding employers. It has continued to support the community, playing an active part as a member, contributing to events and outreach, and employs apprentices benefiting from Level 3, 5 and 7 programmes. Although NHSBT was running an apprenticeship scheme prior to joining ATAC, this was in its early stages. The expertise, support and guidance received through the work with the ATAC team has helped the scientific aspect of apprenticeship scheme mature and grow into a nationally recognised programme advanced therapies functions. The company counts 71 apprentices who have already successfully completed the programmes and over 200 currently enrolled or waiting to enrol,10% of which through ATAC.


The challenge: recruiting talent into specialist roles

Apprenticeships were originally identified by the People function within NHSBT as an important asset to support workforce development and recruitment for the organisation.

Historically, some of NHSBT’s scientific roles had proven to be a challenging area for the organisation to recruit into. This arose from exploring recruitment and training from traditional academic routes which mainly attracted graduates or experienced scientists. By investing in talented individuals at an earlier stage in their career, NHSBT identified that they could address their recruitment needs in a non-traditional way and give more people access to roles within the industry.

NHSBT’s own demand for specialist skills is reflected across the advanced therapies industry, as reported in the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Skills Demand Survey. The report demonstrated that the cell and gene therapy industry was expanding rapidly and companies across the industry needed to include alternative approaches to recruiting and retaining talent to avoid being left behind in this fast-paced and emerging sector.


The impact: recruiting talent in a more efficient way

The relationship with the ATAC team provided NHSBT with the data, insight, and support to help improve their original approach to scientific apprenticeships. With the backing of the ATAC programme, NHSBT were able to leverage an alternative approach to recruitment and workforce development..

NHSBT’s original scheme focused on using apprenticeship programmes to upskill its existing workforce. Working together with the ATAC teams, this focus shifted to also recruit new talent into their scientific roles through apprenticeships. Working hand-in-hand with the existing and established Scientific Training Team within NHSBT, the NHSBT Apprenticeship Team were able to offer genuinely suitable and applicable options for the development and recruitment of talent.

Putting the advice into practice, NHSBT recruited two Level 5 Technician Scientist apprentices through the first ATAC programme. Throughout the recruitment process, the ATAC team supported NHSBT in many ways: by providing invaluable advice with recruitment and on-boarding, recommending suitable programmes across a number of diverse job roles, and ensuring the appointed training providers delivered exactly what the industry needs.

By being part of the ATAC community, NHSBT gained access to a variety of initiatives including employer events, held nationally and regionally, proving particularly beneficial for local managers. As a national organisation, having access to additional local resources was very helpful for NHSBT to support their apprentices on a regional level.

Richard Shortland, Senior OD Manager, reflects on the impact that the ATAC programme has brought to NHSBT’s apprenticeship offering:

“It is our clear intention to recruit more valuable and enthusiastic new starters at Level 3 and Level 5 this year! It’s very clear that we wouldn’t have had the same experience without our involvement with ATAC. We have an excellent apprenticeship team at NHSBT, made all the more effective and impactful by the association with the ATAC community. We thank everyone involved with ATAC for their continued support and their expansion of programmes each year to meet more and more skills needs.”


The outcome: continuously developing an award-winning apprentice workforce

One of NHSBT’s Level 5 ATMP apprentices won the 2021 NHSBT Apprenticeship Ambassador Award in recognition of their contribution to the ATAC community and their support for the ATMP industry as a whole. The award-winning apprentice will be extending their apprenticeship to commence the Level 6 when the Level 5 is complete and is hoping to stay with NHSBT in the long-term.

Also through the support from the ATAC team in developing and refining their apprenticeship scheme, NHSBT received a regional “Newcomer Award” and was a National Finalist in the National Apprenticeship Awards, shortly after it commenced.

In addition to bringing valuable new talent into the organisation, NHSBT currently has 20 members of staff upskilling through the Level 3 Science Manufacturing Technician, Level 7 Regulatory Affairs and Level 7 Senior Leader ATAC programmes.

About NHS Blood and Transplant

NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is an Arm’s Length Body of the NHS, providing Blood, Transplantation, Diagnosis and Therapeutic services as well as clinical and research products and services to improve patient’s health. NHSBT’s experience in the processing and storage of stem cells for transplant and the manufacture of clinical-grade advanced cellular and molecular therapies, combined with our strong links to clinicians and hospitals, means helping bring new and ground-breaking treatments to the bedside.


Developing skills and employability for the future

ATAC has prioritised a range of programmes, from entry-level to Master’s-equivalent apprenticeships, to bring in new talent and upskill staff for the rapidly growing UK cell and gene therapy industry. The number of ATAC apprentices more than doubled in one year, now standing at 137 apprentices employed across 36 UK companies, and the initiative continues to provide a platform for developing industry innovators of the future.