Talking about Recruitment

Published on 02 August 2022, by Alison Day


This blog post focuses on recent discussions around recruitment.

Several discussions have taken place over the last couple of months about recruitment and how we attract people to apply for roles within NHS knowledge and library services. 

From conversations with knowledge and library service managers, and awareness of the number of vacancies appearing on NHS Jobs, a short survey was distributed to managers in January 2022 to assess some of the difficulties with recruitment.  64 responses were received and results confirmed that many managers were experiencing challenges with recruitment. 

In March 2022 Kaye Bagshaw and Nicki Forgham-Healey ran a series of focus groups with nineteen library managers to find out more.   Simultaneously, Sarah Gardner, assisted by Sarah Hennessy, facilitated a virtual knowledge café for library staff in the Yorkshire and Humber Library Network to discuss recruitment and research topics.  The useful feedback from this café and from discussions at an East Midlands Clinical Information Specialists Network meeting was shared at a joint Workforce and Research Round Table event held in May.  

Several themes and suggestions emerged from the various discussions and feedback: 

  • raising the profile  of working in the health sector 

  • job descriptions  

  • advertising vacancies 

  • the role of qualifications 

  • developing the workforce  

Recent experience of finding the right candidate for job vacancies were shared and one of the key themes which emerged was the sense that the pandemic has had a negative influence on application numbers. Several reasons for this were discussed, including potential candidates not being interested in working in the NHS, being unaware of what a library and knowledge specialist in the NHS does and preferences around full time or part time and virtual or hybrid positions not being able to be met.  Higher living costs associated with certain geographical areas was also considered to be a factor.  

Raising the profile 

All agreed that promotion of our sector is a key area to develop, as it was felt that not enough is known about the roles knowledge and library staff undertake to support patient care and ensure best evidence is used to underpin decision making in healthcare settings. It was interesting to listen to the groups, as they all believed that they make a difference to patient outcomes in their daily working lives. Several people spoke about the opportunity to work with so many dedicated people as a source of job satisfaction, others went so far as to say being able to support clinical staff was a privilege.  One NHS trust had run a marketing campaign where “hidden roles” in the health service were showcased, one of which was from the knowledge and library service.  

We heard about various other ways in which library managers were championing the role of their services in the NHS these included: 

  • talking about the work they do with students on university library courses 

  • visiting schools and promoting the role of librarians in the NHS 

  • attending careers fairs 

  • offering work experience and visits to library students or librarians from other sectors  

At the round-table event it was agreed that positive role modelling has a significant part to play in raising the profile and changing perceptions about our profession. 

Job descriptions 

There was a lot of discussion about job descriptions. It was felt that the terminology used in job descriptions and adverts can be off-putting and unintentionally non-inclusive.  Some managers wondered if candidates realised that new starters are not necessarily expected to have all the skills listed as desirable (or even essential) on job descriptions. They wondered if it might be possible to add a sentence to job profiles stating that successful candidates would be given the opportunity to acquire all the required skills and knowledge during an agreed period.  

Some managers had noticed disparities in relation to job titles, key responsibilities and banding in advertised roles.  Greater awareness of the Agenda For Change National Job Profiles and how they are applied was deemed to be useful.   

Advertising Vacancies 

There were a variety of views about the best way to advertise vacancies.  Many felt that NHS Jobs had limited scope but recognised that this is often the only formally available place where an advert can be placed.  There had been some limited use of CILIP Information Professional Jobs but it was generally agreed that this is a rather expensive option.  Advertising via social media or social networks was often a more viable alternative. 

Emphasising career progression and continuing professional development opportunities alongside attractive conditions and clarity about pay was thought to be important. 

Qualifications and Experience 

For qualified roles, managers reported a lack of suitable candidates with the relevant health sector experience. The importance of NHS experience was discussed, and many managers wanted new starters at band 6 to be able to “hit the ground running”.  Within the knowledge café this led to discussion about routes into the profession, the need for placements within health libraries to be offered to library and information studies students and the need for planned role development and progression.    

Discussions around what makes a suitable candidate led to agreement that transferable skills are key for all roles, highlighting customer service and enthusiasm for the role. It was felt that skills such as literature searching, teaching, and use of medical terminology could be learnt on the job.  

Developing the workforce 

The need to develop existing staff was raised, and feedback ranged from encouraging paraprofessionals at bands 3 or 4 to undertake a suitable qualification to introducing developmental two-year posts for library and information graduates at a band 5.  It was felt important to advertise these types of roles at the right time of year to attract library and information students who are about to graduate. There was support for the Library Assistant Apprenticeship Scheme and development of the degree-level apprenticeship was welcomed.  There was consensus that there needs to be a plan for role development with clear progression opportunities and clarity about role responsibilities.  

Some managers wondered if potential candidates working outside the NHS might be able to access relevant training via the Knowledge for Healthcare Learning Academy, or whether guidance could be produced to assist those thinking about applying for a role in healthcare. 

The Workforce Planning and Development workstream of Knowledge for Healthcare have several pieces of work underway to address some of the issues raised. 

We are taking every opportunity to promote a career within NHS knowledge and library services.  This includes  

  • promoting the work of NHS knowledge and library staff in publications, conferences and meetings  

  • attending career fairs and conferences, such as Healthcareers Live, CILIP Conference and various University events 

  • arranging visits and shadowing 

  • refreshing the NHS Careers website 

  • advertising vacancies across social media, and including links to the NHS Jobs website within a series of articles in CILIP Information Professional and a link to the NHS Careers information on the Information Professional Jobs Health website 

  • working with CILIP as sector representatives on the trailblazer group for apprenticeships  

  • working with higher education course providers to develop and deliver optional health modules on postgraduate degrees  

  • introducing health-related dissertation topics to Master’s students 

We have undertaken some analysis of our current workforce data and are using this to model the future development needs of our small and specialised workforce.  From our data we know that we need to grow our workforce.  As one part of this we have offered bursaries for members of our workforce who wish to study for a library and information postgraduate qualification and we are actively seeking ways to develop a graduate trainee scheme. 

We are also broadening our continuing professional development offer to map the unique skills and knowledge required to work within NHS knowledge and library services and ensure that we have a consistent offer available to upskill those that join our workforce.  This primarily focuses upon extending expert searcher development opportunities. 

There is however, much more to do.  We are currently establishing a recruitment task and finish group to explore some of the following questions that have emerged from this early work: 

What good practice can be shared around recruitment practices? 

How can job descriptions and job adverts be made more inclusive to appeal to a wider audience? 

What is the best way to advertise a vacancy? 

What can we learn from how are other sectors or professions managing to recruit people to their vacancies? 

How can the job application and candidate selection process be improved? 

If you would like to find out more or are interested in joining the group please contact [email protected] 

With huge thanks to Sarah Gardner, Sarah Hennessy, Kaye Bagshaw and Nicki Forgham-Healey for facilitating the sessions and to all those who discussed and contributed their feedback and ideas. 


Leave a comment