How HR Teams Can Be Proactive About Solving the Potential Talent Gap in Healthcare

by Maren Fox

February 06, 2018

The Association of American Medical Colleges anticipates the nation’s physician shortage could reach more than 100,000 by 2030. Today, many HR professionals are already facing a talent gap in healthcare that results in limited applicant pools, higher recruitment costs, and prolonged job vacancies.

The solution is to revamp hiring practices—but it must go deeper than this. HR teams have to rethink workforce development, benefits programs, and retention strategies. After all, the next leader of your healthcare organization could be perusing job boards over their lunch break.

Go on the Offensive

The Pew Charitable Trusts reports that, on average, it takes healthcare organizations across the country more than two months to fill open positions. Prolonged vacancies add stress across the workforce, create massive HR headaches, and negatively impact patient satisfaction ratings. Technology must be part of the solution to hiring woes.

Geofencing, for example, offers a more proactive approach to recruiting. It starts with an organization purchasing a list of individuals who are likely qualified for a position based on things like their education, professional group associations, and online activity. Then, GPS and radio frequency identification (RFID) are used to establish virtual perimeters (fences) around geographical areas those candidates are known to frequent. When they enter the geofenced zone, social media marketing ads are sent to their phones with relevant job listings.

Carol McDaniel, a recruiter at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Florida, told NPR that she used geofencing to target highly coveted specialized neonatal nurse practitioner candidates. Soon, the hospital went from getting zero applications to receiving three or four every week. This is just one example of how technology can speed up the hiring process.

Use talent profiles to sell your business.

Every time a healthcare organization posts a job, it makes a statement about its culture. When a message isn’t inspiring, it attracts less-than-inspired candidates. The solution is to combine HR and corporate communications using “talent profiles.”

Talent profiles use an organization’s strategic goals to identify skills and traits needed by candidates to help achieve those goals. The key piece, however, is achieving consensus from corporate communications and HR teams. Anthony Petrucci, a senior director of corporate communications and public affairs at HID Global, writes in Forbes that the best approach combines the storytelling, creativity, messaging, and targeting of corporate communications with the recruitment, talent management, engagement, and training aspects of HR. Ultimately, Petrucci concludes, the approach “helps attract, engage, and retain talented individuals” while also helping organizations establish a positive reputation.

Hire for fit, and train for skills.

Remember the Pew study that found it takes more than two months to fill healthcare job openings in the U.S.? One of the main reasons for this is a rise in more stringent qualifications for potential candidates. Organizations are looking for candidates with high-level degrees and more certifications—and that could be a mistake.

The best option for healthcare providers might be to “embrace” the talent gap in healthcare by hiring for fit and training for skills. The key is to eliminate needless credentials or certifications from job posts. “It is eliminating a lot of excellent candidates in favor of needlessly over qualified and over educated mediocrity,” Phil La Duke writes in Entrepreneur. Additionally, just because a candidate doesn’t have a particular certification doesn’t mean they can’t earn it. Putting together a plan for new hires to earn required accreditations will help attract motivated “go-getters” and will help you retain them, too (more on that later).

“Good Morning” Goes a Long Way

The healthcare talent gap means that hiring managers have to do more to attract and retain good employees. Transitioning from a traditional hierarchical structure to a team-based environment has been found to make employees more engaged and healthcare organizations more able to react to new challenges.

The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey reveals that organizations are turning to new organizational models that reflect the team building and networking desires of today’s culture. Only 14 percent of executives said that the traditional hierarchical structure remains highly effective. Why? Organizations designed for speed, agility, and adaptability were found to be better able “to compete and win in today’s global business environment.”

The Deloitte survey also found that smaller teams are “a natural way for humans to work.” Small, networked teams allow individuals to interact, share information, and pull resources and expertise from different teams to tackle big challenges. In other words, teams make individuals more engaged. The survey’s authors conclude that “Different networks can have different specialties, such as innovation or getting to market quickly, but the principle is the same. For a company to stay agile, teams must be formed and disbanded quickly.”

Use benefits programs that employees love.

Millennials yearn for continuing education and professional advancement—and they’re increasingly struggling under the weight of student loan debt. In fact, collective student loan debt now tops $1.3 trillion. It’s no surprise that employer-sponsored student loan debt repayment programs have been found to dramatically increase retention rates, as reported by the Society for Human Resource Managers (SHRM)

Additionally, a Gallup poll identifies learning and professional growth as top priorities of millennials in the workplace. That means that offering a continuing education benefits program could help healthcare organizations attract, develop, and retain top talent despite the healthcare talent gap.

Build Retention Strategies That Matter

Dr. Beverley Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, best-selling authors and thought leaders on retention in the modern workplace, describe retention and engagement strategy in their books Love ’Em or Lose ’Em and Hello Stay Interviews Goodbye Talent Loss.

Conducting regular “stay interviews” with employees is among the most effective and low cost retention strategies they champion. A “stay interview” is an opportunity to let your employee know they’re valued—and to learn what they value (and loathe) about their current position—in a one-on-one conversation. By connecting with employees on a personal level, stay interviews not only help keep employees engaged, but they also help with employee retention. This requires not simply learning about an employees’ aspirations, but also drafting a roadmap to realize them. Kaye and Jordan-Evans offer these helpful tips for the stay interview:

  • Blinking words. Certain keywords, which the authors call “blinking words,” stand out when employees talk about their current roles. Ask follow-up questions about ambiguous words or phrases—such as “complex challenges” or “working collaboratively”—to probe deeper.
  • Don’t say “no.” Instead of explaining why an employee’s dreams are unrealistic or too difficult, managers should explain what saying “yes” would actually mean, such as whether additional responsibilities would come with a pay raise or if a promotion requires additional training and certification.

Another important concept that Kaye and Jordan-Evans explore in their third book, Up is Not the Only Way: Rethinking Career Mobility, is that employees don’t necessarily need to be given promotions or new job titles to advance professionally. It’s possible to change the bounds of current positions to better reflect an employee’s skills and aspirations—as well as the strategic goals of the organization. “It’s about creating ongoing, two-way, formal and informal communication between individuals and their managers, coaches, mentors, and others to ensure that career experiences reach maximum potential and possibilities,” write Kaye and Jordan-Evans.

Everyone wants to feel like their skills are being fully realized—and appreciated. Engaging in heartfelt dialogue is the first step in letting employees know they’re valued; using that dialogue to maximize their skills and potential is the second step.

In an Prudential-Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) survey of U.S. hospital executives, 90 percent of respondents said they believe that the looming talent gap is already among the sector’s most pressing challenges. With more and more baby boomers aging into retirement every day and requiring more care, addressing the talent gap is no longer about increasing profits—it’s about ensuring that society’s most vulnerable can get the care they need.

For HR professionals, a multi-pronged approach is necessary now more than ever. Deploying technology to target qualified recruits, using team-based organizational structures to boost agility, implementing evidence-based training and development programs, and offering attractive employee benefits and retention programs are all vital to battling the healthcare talent gap.

Topics: Your Organization, Talent Development, Talent Management, Organizational Change and Development

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