Meet Heather, a Procurement Graduate Trainee


Heather Forshaw

Procurement Graduate Trainee

Pathways 2 NHS Procurement

I studied Languages at the University of Leeds, and after I graduated, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what I wanted to do – the two obvious options with a languages degree were teaching or translation and I wasn’t sure that either of them were right for me. I took some time out to travel and spent time in both South America and Australia/New Zealand and had a temporary job in a HR department that I did for a few months at a time in between these trips.

During the Covid lockdowns I began to think more about what I wanted to do long term and started to look for jobs and graduate schemes to apply to. I saw the Pathways 2 Procurement graduate scheme advertised on my university’s alumni careers website and decided that this was something that would really interest me – at the time the NHS was very prominent in the news due to Covid-19 and the job role sounded like something that I would enjoy, so it seemed like a great combination. I submitted my initial application, completed the reasoning tests, and heard back within a week or so that I had progressed to the interview stage.

Throughout the application and interview process, there was a great level of communication from the Pathways 2 Procurement team. There were no long waits to find out whether I had progressed to the next stage. The interview panels were really friendly and left me feeling excited about the prospect of the role and a career in the NHS.

I was ultimately lucky enough to be offered a role across two organisations, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) and Central and North West London NHS Trust (CNWL). I found this a really interesting mix, as UCLH is a large acute hospital, whereas CNWL is a mental health and community trust, so the types of procurements I was able to work on varied quite a lot. At UCLH I joined the corporate procurement team, who look after all non-clinical goods and services, however I was also able to gain some experience shadowing the clinical procurement teams to gain a better understanding of how they purchased key clinical items. At CNWL I worked mostly in the mental health area, procuring services such as a counselling provider to take on some of the additional demand caused by the Covid backlog.

I was given a lot of independence from early in the role which I enjoyed, as I knew that I could always reach out to my line managers or other team members for support if I needed it. I was able to manage my own time between the two organisations as needed rather than sticking to a set rota, and generally worked one day in each office per week and the rest of the time from home. I enjoyed this balance as it meant that I wasn’t restricted to certain days, and that I was able to make the most of opportunities at both organisations.

I was also offered a lot of training and development opportunities, which I tried to take wherever possible. My organisations provided me a lot of support whilst I studied for CIPS and allowed me to take study leave as needed which was a huge help. I also found that many of my colleagues were studying for the same qualification, or had recently completed it, so I had a lot of people that I could reach out to for any support or just to discuss how the course was going. There were also a number of additional opportunities offered by the NHS Skills Development team; one course that I found particularly useful was ran by Achilles and covered the rules and regulations of public sector procurement. This area was completely new to me when I began my role, so attending this course early on in the scheme helped me to gain a strong understanding of what to consider when running a public sector procurement, and how to avoid any potential issues.

One of my highlights of the scheme was having the opportunity to attend a week-long Procurement Development Programme in Nottingham. Almost all of the graduates were able to attend, so it was a great opportunity to spend time with everyone and hear about their experiences, whilst also learning a lot more about different aspects of NHS procurement. There was a range of speakers including the CEO of NHS Supply Chain and the Director of Procurement for the NHS Central Commercial Function, and to have the opportunity to network with these speakers and learn more about their roles was invaluable.

As I was approaching the end of my time on the scheme, I began to think about applying for a permanent role. At this time, a job became available at UCLH, and my line manager encouraged me to apply. I was ultimately successful and secured a permanent Band 7 role as an Assistant Procurement Business Partner in the Surgery & Cancer Board. For me, the graduate scheme was crucial in helping me progress to this role, as throughout the two-year scheme my managers had allowed me to take responsibility for projects and gain experience that I perhaps wouldn’t have had the chance to do in a different entry-level role. I came into my new role feeling confident with the knowledge and skills that I had developed over the two-year scheme, and so far, am really enjoying the role and the chance to learn more about procuring clinical goods and services.

To anybody thinking of applying for the Pathways 2 Procurement NHS Graduate Scheme, I would say go for it! If you are prepared to put in the hard work and take the opportunities offered, then there is a real chance to build a career in procurement.

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