Public Health England’s (PHE) core purpose is to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities.
We know that having a decent job is one of the most important determiners of a person’s current and future health and wellbeing, which is why we want to encourage all employers to consider how they can offer working opportunities to groups within the community who are disadvantaged or vulnerable.
We're not content to just lecture businesses about the work we’re doing; as PHE’s HR director I’m making sure that we lead by example. After all, as Professor Aidan Halligan – who changed the NHS’s attitude towards the principle of learning from mistakes – said: "Leadership is example. That's all it is."
As well as introducing a programme of positive action to increase diversity among our 5,300 staff at all levels, we want to show the life-changing impact that offering work placements and paid roles to disadvantaged, challenged and vulnerable people can have.
One example is ‘Project SEARCH’, an initiative developed by the University of Cincinnati in 1996 for young adults with learning disabilities. We launched it in September 2016 in partnership with the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, Barnet Borough Council, Barnet and Southgate College and the West London Alliance. The students, aged between 18 and 24, have been working across a range of roles in laboratories, front-of-house positions and warehousing jobs.
One parent described their child’s development so far through the project as ‘remarkable’. But it’s not just the students who are progressing – PHE staff are also finding it to be an enriching experience, as teams are brought together and employees develop compassionate and inclusive management skills. And with many students due to begin full-time, paid jobs at the end of the academic year, our staff can truly say they have had a transformational impact on these young people’s lives.
PHE has also offered four part-time time transitional employment placements (TEPs) to people with mental health illnesses, in partnership with the Mosaic Clubhouse in Brixton. The TEP positive action programme provides work opportunities through a more accessible route than the usual recruitment procedures. For those involved, it may be the first time they have been in employment, or signal a return to work after a long break. With a member of the Mosaic team on hand to train the employee on-the-job – and cover for them if they are unable to work – during the six to nine-month placements members gain self-confidence, new skills and higher self-esteem.
More recently, we’ve begun to offer work placements for men and women from the armed forces who have suffered physical and/or mental health illnesses during their service. The aim is to help them redevelop their confidence and self-esteem, which in turn leads to a greater chance of them finding ongoing paid employment. PHE is working with the Career Transition Partnership, and is following the example of companies such as Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), which has employed more than 400 ex-armed forces personnel since 2013. JLR has also provided work placement opportunities for 30 wounded, injured and sick service men and women since December 2014.
Here, again, we take inspiration from Professor Halligan, who spent time in Camp Bastion Field Hospital in Afghanistan – a truly multinational A&E – where he saw real teamwork, regardless of rank, to save and protect lives in working conditions few of us could imagine. He also talked about leadership as doing the right thing on a difficult day. We are just trying to set an example so that we help people who have many difficult days to improve their health and wellbeing.
Tony Vickers-Byrne is HR director at Public Health England