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Work experience and pre-employment activity

Please Note: Work experience in many areas of the country has been cancelled due to COVID-19. See below ‘online alternatives to work experience’.

When done well, work experience and pre-employment activity can form an integral part of an organisation’s workforce supply strategy, helping people of all ages and backgrounds understand the world of work and make decisions about their education and career and acting as a feeder into apprenticeships, pre-registration courses or broader employment.

Work experience can help an individual l earn more about a desired career, gaining valuable practical knowledge. It can also help an individual develop aspirations for previously unconsidered career options. It is a requirement for some professions and higher education courses and can take many forms.

Many health and care organisations already run significant work experience and employability programmes.  If you are looking for potential work experience opportunities in your area, please contact the employer directly.

Preparation for work programmes. 

The term 'preparation for work' describes work related learning, work experience and employability programmes (see definitions below). Annually during 2017/18, there were over 20,000 work experience opportunities and 45,000 work related learning opportunities as well as over 2,000 employability programme participants in the NHS. This is one of the largest programmes in England. 

A number of surveys have been undertaken to better understand current practice and scale of work experience opportunities within the health sector.  The latest survey report, conducted to cover financial year 2017-18, will be available soon.

Read the 2015 report.

Access to medicine and the professions

HEE works in partnership with a variety of organisations to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds to successfully apply to medical school or degree-level healthcare programmes.  For more information, please visit the Aspiring Professionals Programme by the Social Mobility Foundation and the Pathways to Medicine programme by the Sutton Trust.


More than photocopying (Work experience - a toolkit for the NHS) provides information and resources to help NHS organisations offer high quality work experience opportunities. It aims to answers your questions and helps you to create or enhance a work experience programme that benefits your organisation. It builds on the good practice that is already in place in many parts of the health service.

Applicants have reported difficulties accessing opportunities within GP and dental surgeries and there are documented concerns from such organisations, which highlight issues such as indemnity and insurance, which are different for independent businesses. To help combat this, two additional toolkits that focus on the detail needed to support work experience in dentistry and general practice have been developed.   These two toolkits tackle specific issues, such as confidentiality, that might be putting dentists and GPs off providing work experience.

The toolkits have been designed to be used in several ways. You can read them from start to finish or you can dip into sections, which you can use to improve your existing programme. 

A connected guide for teachers and careers advisers is also available. It explains how the NHS works, and provides information and practical tips on how to set up a placement.

NHS Employers, commissioned by HEE, have also developed guidance for making the most of a relationship with your local Job Centre.

Preparation for Work Directory 

HEE has developed a Preparation for Work Directory which pulls together information guidance and resources on the current pre-employment activity offer including work experience and careers initiatives. This directory shows what is currently available to enable you to choose which initiative best suits your needs.

The Preparation for Work Directory will be updated on a monthly basis as and when new information becomes available and can be viewed here . If you have any information you think would be suitable for the directory, please email talentforcare@hee.nhs.uk

Return on Investment for employability programmes

Commissioned by HEE, Accenture have carried out some research to assess the Return on Investment (ROI) to NHS Trusts for running employability programmes

The findings from the business case demonstrate that there could be an overall ROI of 2.5, meaning that for every £1 spent on delivering employability programmes, an NHS Trust could recoup that £1 plus an additional £2.50 in financial and economic benefits.  


Employability programmes are specific industry driven schemes that include an element of training and work experience, for people to develop essential skills, and possibly qualifications, that lead to increased opportunities of employment or apprenticeship in entry-level roles.

Work experience opportunities are of any length or form (other than those that fall into the definition of employability programmes) for direct experience of healthcare work within an organisational setting.  This may take the form of role shadowing. 

Work related learning is developing exposure and insight into roles that provide a deeper understanding of the skills and knowledge required of the workplace. This could include careers/skills events that are hosted by the employer, open days and tours.

Nationally, we are also working with a number of partner organisations to increase the opportunities for people to experience work in the healthcare sector - broadening their knowledge of the available healthcare careers and helping to ensure the future workforce supply to the NHS.  These include the Prince’s Trust and Jobcentre Plus. Over the last seven years, the Prince’s Trust has delivered pre-employment programmes for over 2,500 young people in partnership with HEE.

Many local HEE teams and local organisations also run their own programmes, providing opportunities for young people to complete training or a work experience placement to prepare them for employment.

Most recently, preparation for work delivery has switched to online alternatives. These resources come in a variety of forms i.e. live webinars with clinicians, virtual workshops, interactive video or e-learning platforms. This has presented an opportunity to better understand what online alternatives can offer and how they can provide further insights into career paths in the NHS.

HEE is undertaking a discovery phase to identify what online alternatives currently exist, and are under development, where there are gaps, what evidence there is of their impact and how we can support further development moving forward.

We wish to continue supporting and encouraging face-to-face placements and all that they offer, while also benefiting from the different insights which can be presented online. A Discovery Report, including recommendations, will be made available here in April 2021.

Across England NHS staff in trusts organise and deliver work experience placements to 15,000 prospective healthcare workers per year.  In September 2020 HEE launched the National Work Experience Network. Over 200 NHS staff members and stakeholders have joined the network forum on Microsoft Teams to share, discuss and collaborate on the delivery and management of work experience locally.

If your work includes work experience delivery in healthcare and you are interested in how you can join please contact: diversityinclusionandparticipation@hee.nhs.uk.




HEE, on behalf of the NHS, is part of Movement to Work, a voluntary collaboration of UK employers committed to tackling youth unemployment through provision of high quality vocational training and work experience opportunities.

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