Routes into the NHS


Employability programmes

These are pre-employment programmes usually aimed at specific groups, for example, 16-24-year-olds not in education, employment or training, young offenders, or young carers. While the criteria for the schemes may differ, they usually include an element of training and work experience to help people develop their employability skills. Usually lasting between four and 13 weeks, the programmes give an insight into working life and provide skills such as interview techniques and CV writing. The programmes can be used to support people to move into initial entry-level posts and provide a progression pathway into level two qualifications and sustainable employment.

Work experience

This can be an ideal way for those not sure what they want to do or which sector they want to work in to gain some experience of what it is like to be in a work setting. The length of the work experience can vary from ‘tasters’ lasting just half a day through to one or two weeks or even delivered a couple of days a week over a few months.  While the programme can include observation and work shadowing, it should give some direct experience of the work the role involves.  The aim is to provide a good quality work experience placement that is well organised, purposeful, have a clear role, and be reviewed. Those taking part will be supervised which can provide an opportunity for existing staff wishing to develop some management and leaderships skills.  For the NHS it is the first step in the “grow our own” approach to building its workforce and feeding the talent pipeline.

T Levels

These are a level three technical education route that provide an alternative to A levels for 16-19-year-olds. One T Level is equivalent to three A levels. They began in September 2020 and come in a range of subject areas. T Level programmes in digital, construction, education and childcare, health, healthcare science and science are currently available. Other subjects will come online in the future. View all T Level course start dates.

T Levels will showcase the breadth of roles available in the NHS  to a people who know they want to work in health or social care but haven’t yet picked a specific occupation.

What sets T Levels apart from A levels is that they include an industry placement of 315 hours (approximately 45 days) in an employment setting. The industry placement should enable the students to put their learning into practice and get involved in tasks required to fulfil a role such as assisting with brushing a patient’s teeth or answering telephone queries. How the industry placement is structured will be agreed between employers and the education provider.

Supportive internships

Lasting up to one year, these internships offer 16-24 year olds with a learning difficulty, disability or autism, an opportunity to build their skills and confidence to go into paid work.

HEE created Project Choice to help young adults gain work experience and improve employability and independence skills within NHS organisations. You can read more about this on HEE’s website.

Return to practice

These programmes are aimed at previously registered professionals and aim to update their skills and knowledge in order to facilitate a return to practice, they typically last between 1-12 months. Health Education England runs return to practice programmes designed to provide individuals with help and information should they wish to return to their profession.

From 28 January 2020, nurses and midwives who are looking to return to practice can undertake a test of competence instead of doing a return to practice course. This is an alternative route back onto the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register and does not replace return to practice courses which are still available. More information on the test of competence including information on how to apply and preparation materials are available on the NMC website.


These are programmes for 16-24 year olds not in education, training or work, who are motivated but not yet ready for work or an apprenticeship. The programmes are designed to provide the skills, confidence and attitudes they will need to thrive in the workplace. At the core of the programme is a work experience placement to help trainees become ready for the world of work. Traineeships are delivered by training providers and the cost of the training is met by government funding. Employers work with providers to design a programme that meets the trainee’s needs and can include things such as behaviours expected in the workplace, and support to achieve a standard of English and maths.

International recruitment

As the largest single employer in the UK, the NHS is proud to have a diverse workforce and recruitment from outside the UK continues to be an important part of the workforce supply strategy of NHS organisations in line with the NHS People Plan.