If you picked up any newspaper yesterday you will have read a range of articles, all based on recent reports, and statistics that claimed the NHS is facing its biggest recruitment challenge since inception.

Stats that jumped out to me:

  • Over 100,000 vacancies in the NHS that need filling right now.
  • Over 50,000 of these are for a single skill area in nursing alone.
  • The last 12 months, has been the most successful 12 months recruitment for nurses in the UK, with over 10,000 recruited.
  • Over 500 people over the age of 50 left the NHS last year and have not been replaced.


If you then listened to any of the media interviews regarding yesterday’s data, there was one over-arching comment and call to action which flowed through all of them; the need for an overall strategic plan to attack recruitment and retention across the entire NHS.

What is the reason I mention the state of retention and recruitment within the NHS on a private sector digital recruitment website? Because, when reading and listening to everything yesterday, firstly nothing surprised me, and secondly, I believe a strategic plan is something every business should have for recruitment and retention.

I won’t go into my thoughts on NHS recruitment as reading everything I did yesterday, it did not seem like anything new. The NHS has been in a state of recruitment paralysis for what feels like a decade now. Let’s be honest, it’s not the only area of the Public Sector to be facing this challenge. For example, it feels like we have been trying to fill the 20,000 police officer vacancies which were sold as the saviour of UK policing now for at least five years. For what it’s worth, I don’t think a ‘big strategic plan’ is needed for the entire NHS, I think the plan needs to be localised, to account for the local demographics of that area, then plugged into an international solution.

I do however think that every business, including yours, even if, like mine, it employs just seven people, should have a strategic recruitment plan.

First things first, lets just do away with the word ‘strategic.’ It always puts people off, and in reality we need a framework for success, that can flex with the needs, opportunities, and challenges faced by any business.

I have put three tips below which I would use as my foundation pillars if I was building a recruitment plan for any organisation today:


  1. Where are we at?

Before I did any external recruitment planning, I would want to have a good understanding of every person I have in the business right now. I would be looking at total number of people, average tenure, average salaries, salary consistency, over-performance, under-performing individuals, and how we attracted those people in the first instance.

KEY OUTCOME – From this exercise, I would want to understand over the past 12 months how many people have left the organisation, how many are underperforming to the desired standard right now, and how many empty seats there are today.  This would start to give me an attrition percentage. I would not then tell myself the last 12 months can’t be used for comparison, because X, Y, or Z happened which was unique. The reality is those things did happen, and that number is a consequence of that, so it’s reality.


  1. Right here, right now:

By completing exercise one, I now know exactly what I need right now. How many people, for what roles, and the previous budgets were for these hires. If these people left post more than six months ago, but I need to hire in the next six months, then the first thing to do is to add 10% to the salary level. There is no point telling yourself inflation is just a blip or short term thing, salaries were going up in certain sectors before we even starting talking about the ‘cost of living crisis.’ If history teaches us anything, it’s that once prices go up, they rarely go down.

KEY OUTCOME – From this I want a cleat picture of the hiring needs today. The key here is that these number represent today, not tomorrow, not next week (we are coming to that,) no, these are the figures for today.


  1. What’s that coming over the hill?

What projects are due to be completed in the next 12 months? If you can’t see 12 months ahead, don’t stress, look at 6 months, and we can build from there. Again, don’t budget based on historic salaries, you need to budget based on the now. Also ignore the data which came out of actioning the previous bullet point, remember that is what you need today, to stand still, this exercise is about the future, and growth.

KEY OUTCOME – Combine the data from bullet point 2 and 3, and we now have 3 things:

  1. The number of people needed today
  2. The number of people needed in the next 6 to 12 months for growth
  3. An attrition number which we can add into the growth figure to forecast total hires for the next 12 month period


Completing all three of the above in this order is the only way to seriously get ready to hire, and to hire successfully. There will no doubt be actions that will come from each step, most importantly step one, when reviewing existing staffing, but that is a task all on itself, which is needed to focus on retention. Not addressing the retention issue is like continually driving with a slow puncture, that you just put air in every Saturday, after surviving another week. It makes no sense.

I could now outline what should happen next, but to be honest, have you really completed the above three actions in the past three months? If you have, and you want to get some advice on what to do next, great! You can get me anytime on and no matter what sector you work in, I would be happy to try and help.

If you have not completed these tasks, and you are still currently trying to recruit, either directly, or through a recruiter, then you really are just pouring water through a colander. You have to have a base camp to build from, you have to have an accurate starting point to know what is happening in your business, and what you need moving forwards. Most importantly, you have to have real recruiting budgets that acknowledges the state of the recruitment market today, not a previous point in time.

If the above seems over-whelming, then please don’t worry, any recruitment partner worth their salt, should be willing to help, and even do this for you. At Digital 51, this is where we start every recruitment project, we have to, otherwise how can we provide medium term support?

The above might not seem like ‘sexy recruitment,’ and it might not even talk about enough actual recruitment for you, but I promise you, like eating more greens, getting more sleep, spending less time on social media, and exercising a little more. All of the above steps will help improve your life more than any potential silver bullet solution.

Strategic planning does not need to be big, scary, or cumbersome, it is also not something just for big business. It is however the foundations of winning in the recruitment market, today, tomorrow and the day after. For me, you must have an ‘in it to win it’ attitude in today’s current recruitment market, as it is so competitive out there, anything less and you will lose.

Nobody wants to lose, right?

This article was written by Simon Brown, Founder of Digital 51. To discuss the state of your current recruitment needs, and how to win in the talent market right now, you can contact Simon on