Managing the Skills Shortage in Healthcare

health care staff

With talent shortages in the health care industry only expected to grow in the coming years, organizations need to be proactive about planning for and implementing new talent strategies. Demand for health care will continue to grow as the baby boomer population ages. At the same time, a large percentage of the health care workforce is reaching retirement age. There aren’t enough younger workers to fill the gap. You can read more about the causes and impact of the health care talent shortage in our previous blog post. Health care organizations need to plan for that future now by undertaking comprehensive workforce planning, establishing a robust talent pipeline, focusing on retaining their current workers and appealing to the younger generations who will need to step into those roles.

Workforce Planning

To effectively respond to the changing health care talent landscape, organizations need to take proactive steps to plan for their future needs. The future will look different for every organization. Health care organizations in Florida and the Southwest where there are large numbers of retirees will have different staffing needs than organizations in trendy urban areas in the Pacific Northwest or East Coast where the population tends to be younger and healthier. Region also makes a difference in attracting candidates, as rural health systems are already struggling to fill positions. Health care organizations should know what their needs will be in the coming years and what challenges they’ll face attracting workers.

Data analytics is a valuable tool for workforce planning. The American Hospital Association recommends that organizations analyze data including current workforce demographics, potential future workforce requirements, and factors impacting the data, like the increasing popularity of small, stand-alone clinics and ERs and online care. Predictive and prescriptive analytics tools can help healthcare organizations plan for future needs and evaluate how different decisions will impact those hiring needs. According to SHRM, this type of workforce planning can save money by eliminating issues with understaffing and overstaffing. Predictions can provide organizations with a clearer view of how and when different talent gaps will impact them. Armed with that information, health care organizations can make informed decisions when it comes to forming partnerships, increasing retention and reaching out to younger workers.

Starting Early

A key strategy for combating the health care talent shortage will be convincing more young people to enter the health care industry. Too often, HR leaders at organizations only think of potential candidates through a narrow lens. They focus on the people who already work in the industry and who already have the education and skills to be a nurse, medical technician or phlebotomist. There aren’t enough people already in those pipelines to fill the talent gap. Health care organizations need to think broad and start focusing on the young people who are considering a career in health care. They need to start marketing to these candidates earlier than ever before.

The American Hospital Association recommends that health care organizations establish community pipelines by partnering with high schools, colleges and other academic institutions. Through these partnerships, health care organizations can start engaging with future candidates earlier than ever and help drive young people to the health care industry. Partnerships can also create more candidates in a geographical region with a specific set of skills. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a partnership in Minnesota between the University of Minnesota and the VA Healthcare system helped expand enrollment in the school’s nursing program and increased the program’s focus on veteran care. The program ensures more graduates in Minnesota with the skills necessary to care for veterans. Health care organizations should form these partnerships strategically, using their workforce planning predictions to understand which types of positions will have the greatest needs and where these partnerships can have the biggest impact.

Focusing on Retention

HR leaders at health care organizations also need to recognize the stresses the skills gap can create for their current employees and work to combat them. Understaffing creates larger workloads and longer hours. According to CareerBuilder, 70 percent of nurses say they feel burnt out in their current job and more than half rate their stress level as “high.” According to Medscape, only 56 percent of nurses would choose their career if they had a chance to start over again.

This creates a list of concerns for health care providers. The first, and most important, is the impact on patient care. According to Nursing Times, about half of midwives say they’re afraid of making a mistake because they’re exhausted. Additionally, burnout could make the talent shortage even worse. One-third of nurses will reach retirement age in the next 10 to 15 years. Health care organizations cannot afford for younger nurses to leave the profession due to stress or burnout. Finally, current nurses can and should serve as ambassadors who can help encourage young people to work in the health care industry. If current health care workers are stressed, burned out and regretting their career choice, that could harm the talent pipeline.

Health care organizations will have to face the challenges of stress and burnout head on to retain their workers. Healthcare Dive offers tips for ways HR professionals can help. They need to be aware of the signs of burnout and teach self-care strategies. It’s also important to make wellness a priority. Some health care organizations have created quiet rooms stocked with yoga mats and massage chairs where nurses can go during their shifts to take a break. CareerBuilder recommends offering a flexible work environment, encouraging exercise, establishing an open-door policy, offering mental health tools and focusing on continued education.

Health care providers can also tap into the growing gig economy to accommodate clinicians who want more flexibility. PRN, or “pro re nata,” positions are growing in popularity throughout the entire health care industry. The positions are typically part-time, as needed, and many are turning to these roles for the flexibility and incentive pay tied to this type of work, rather than taking full-time positions. Health care organizations can use PRN workers to assist in understaffed facilities, which can lift some of the burden on permanent employees. Additionally, the flexibility in scheduling for PRN workers can help prevent stress and burnout.

Appealing to younger workers

Health care organizations also need to be cognizant of the fact that they are competing with others in the industry for the best of the limited talent pool. To succeed in attracting candidates, health care organizations will need to build a strong employer brand and meet the needs of millennial workers and those in Generation Z.

What do millennials want? Countless writers have tried to answer that question, but Harvard Business Review reports millennials aren’t necessarily all that different from older generations. They want good managers, interesting work and the opportunity to learn and grow. Like many other generations, they want to make a positive impact and help solve social and environmental challenges. By its nature, a career in health care can provide that. One thing that does set millennials apart from earlier generations is an increased debt burden due to higher education costs. Some financial experts recommend that organizations consider new benefits packages that offer student debt repayment to lure millennial workers.

As for Generation Z, the oldest members are just starting to enter the workforce, but experts say to be prepared for a cohort of workers well versed in technology. According to Forbes, in addition to being technologically savvy, members of Gen Z are also entrepreneurial and serious-minded after watching the impact of the Great Recession, so organizations should expect creativity and offer continuing educational opportunities. Harvard Business Review recommends reaching Gen Z candidates where they are – on mobile devices. Authenticity and personalization are also important to this segment of the workforce, as they’ve grown up bombarded with personalized advertisements online. Health care organizations working to attract these workers won’t be able to rely on a one-size-fits-all approach to the application and interview process.

Engaging an Expert

As health care organizations work to manage the growing skills shortages, many are turning to experts in RPO, MSP and Total Workforce Solutions. As organizations plan for their future workforces, these partners can help provide a view of the whole talent spectrum, finding the right mix of both full-time and contingent workers. As the gig economy grows in popularity and more health care workers turn to contingent work, a talent acquisition partner can also ensure compliance on legal issues. Health care organizations should seek out partners with the right experience to tackle the specific needs of the industry.

A partner with a depth of data analytics experience can help develop a unique plan that addresses the needs, region and demographics of an individual health care organization. Data expertise can also help organizations determine why current employees leave and predict which changes could make the biggest differences in employee retention.

Health organizations should also look for a partner with strong experience in building candidate-centered application processes and employer branding. As health care organizations compete for talent, a candidate-centered process and strong employer brand will help bring in the millennial and Generation Z workers.

By | 2017-10-23T14:22:23+00:00 September 29th, 2017|