Career Story – Craig De Sousa

Craig started off his career with the NHS and has 20 years’ experience working for many Trusts,   relishing in the variety of HR roles the NHS has offered. His track record as an HR expert has come about from a combination of personal graft and benefiting from the guidance provided by key influencers he’s met in his career so far.

As the son of a British and Portuguese working-class family and attending one of South London’s largest comprehensive schools, Craig grew up and still lives in Eltham, surrounded by people and friends from different cultural backgrounds. Like many of them, Craig was raised with the expectation to make a critical choice at the age of 16 – to either ‘start earning your keep’ or continue studying – reflecting back on this pivotal moment, to even have the choice was a privilege as most of his family and friends had to start full-time work early.

So, Craig chose both, to work and study.

Surrounded by strong female role models, his mother Maxine and her friend, he was told about flexible working opportunities by joining a staff bank. This gave Craig access to professional HR experience whilst he studied for his A-Levels, often working in the office from 7.30am to 12.30pm and then attending classes for the rest of the day. His first role was working for a recruitment team clearing the answering machine with message left by candidates requesting application forms. Although not the most exciting of HR roles, Craig holds onto this experience as it helped develop his workplace confidence and was the beginning of his exposure to HR.

He completed his A-Levels, BA (Hons) in Human Resource Management, CIPD and MSc in Healthcare Leadership all whilst developing and deepening his HR skills and experience on-the job.

While knowing he was experiencing a successful career and professional development with the NHS, there have been moments that risked holding back Craig’s progression. He remembers as a new starter being enthusiastic with ideas for improving HR processes to be told ‘that’s beyond your pay grade’ by a colleague. His contract was close to completion, but he was still managing a significant workload. Being told in essence, you don’t belong, shook him to the core and he felt he was muted from that point. Craig kept his head down to avoid any further reinforcement he’s not part of the team.

Then one day, the HR Director – Julia, called him into her office and Craig naturally felt anxious expecting the worst. Instead Julia ended up giving Craig a list of substantial activities that required working with several HR teams from, workforce planning, retention through to equality and diversity. She positioned him as key coordinator of strategic HR projects. Why me, Craig asked, to which Julia responded she has heard how others talked about him but she saw potential through the ideas he was sharing with colleagues.  This was the second pivotal moment for Craig – being given a chance and what felt a like stranger believing in him. Craig felt enthused again and could see his work making positive difference at the South East London NHS Shared Services Partnership. Julia guided Craig and coached him to explore his career goals and path. He even followed Julia to NHS Direct which was where she encouraged Craig to apply for manager roles at other Trusts and give others the opportunity to realise their potential.

His career journey after the early years led him to being a senior recruitment officer, an HR transformation manager, an HR business partner and then deputy HR director. Craig achieved his first HR director role at 31 and is now the Workforce Director for the NHS COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Programme.  He is leading a vaccination workforce of over 100,000 staff and volunteers and is supported by a multi-talented core team of NHS colleagues, external partners and volunteer organisations.

Consciously make time for those team members perceived as the ‘quiet ones’, to hear how they experience work and ideas they have to improve HR.

As leaders, create key moments that give people career defining opportunities which will ultimately lift the performance of your directorate.

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