Co-authored with Maura Cassidy
Healthcare faces a dire worker shortage, especially among medical assistants and nurses. In nursing alone, the country could have 450,000 fewer caregivers than it needs by 2025, according to a new analysis by McKinsey & Company.
So, at first blush, the healthcare industry doesn’t seem like a great example of growing a workforce with the right skills.
In many ways, though, it is: While healthcare is still very much struggling with labor supply and demand, it has a jump on other industries in defining career pathways and actually growing talent based on them. It also provides career mobility lessons for other industries.
Nurses, for example, have an established pathway of increasing skilling and specialization. Nurses can move up the pipeline, from a registered nurse with an associate degree, to a BSN with more pay and responsibility, to an increasingly specialized role like a nurse practitioner.
Innovative healthcare systems, like Bon Secours Mercy Health, UCHealth, Sentara, and Children’s Hospital of Colorado are making this opportunity more accessible than ever for their employees, paying 100% of full and part-time associates’ tuition and fees for select clinical pathways, including nursing. Providing this sort of infrastructure is critical.
Another important component is structural. Healthcare is a heavily regulated industry, with many roles, like nursing, that require standard exams and licensing. By its nature, patient care is also cross-functional. This gives staff members an understanding of other people’s jobs. Retail, finance, and many other industries look nothing like that.
Still healthcare’s experience with talent development contains universal lessons that can be adapted across industries.
Healthcare shows us that well-trodden pathways matter a lot; that it’s important to have an open view into what your co-workers in different jobs do everyday; and that work-based learning is critical to success in new roles.
Well-trodden pathways: For many healthcare roles, the education and credentials required are clearly laid out. While it’s true that clinical roles are highly regulated, other industries don’t need to have the same requirements to have clear job pathways. A major retailer, for example, has built pathways from frontline roles into progressively senior IT jobs. A cashier can get training and education to move into a job as an IT support specialist, then a cybersecurity analyst, and ultimately a cyber engineer with a bachelor’s degree.
The only catch: The company had to be intentional about building those pathways. They identified areas of big need—like cyber expertise—and jobs with a lot of workers—like cashiers—and they created and defined the path from one to another. It wasn’t necessarily a “natural” pathway, but over time, it can become routine.
Doing that kind of design work pays off for employers in two ways: First, when pathways are defined and well-trodden workers know what they need to do to advance in their current path or to switch roles, and they trust that if they invest time and money in education, it will pay off. They see it paying off for their colleagues everyday. So more workers actually invest in growing their skills.
Second, it makes financial sense to invest in infrastructure that makes staff movement easier. If pathways are established—in other words, both clearly defined and high volume—employers know where to dedicate resources and they know that investment in education and better systems will yield dividends. You get the volume needed for scale.
The open view: Healthcare workers across the spectrum of jobs often work in the same building—moreover, many work together on the same hospital floor or on cross-disciplinary teams. This open view into others’ jobs gives workers a sense of the pathways available at their company and in their industry, the requirements of those jobs, and what the day-to-day work actually is. In that way, people are able to form and refine their occupational identity on the job—regularly seeing how their skills, interests, and values might translate to different roles.
When people work together across job categories they also develop connections that can help them advance in their career. Think about a patient transporter, who is assisting patients throughout the hospital interacting with administrators, nurses, and the extended care team, any of whom can recommend education and training programs, can guide her and advocate for her. Developing that kind of social capital can make a huge difference in whether someone advances or stagnates in their career.
To learn from this, companies in other industries don’t have to overhaul their day-to-day work structures. They can use tools like all-staff communication, training, and affinity groups to regularly expose their employees to colleagues in roles different from their own—and to encourage those people to interact and develop real connections. Mentorship platforms like Chronus and Mentor Collective can help match mentors and mentees within companies.
Cross-functional projects can take this work even further, helping companies solve some of their biggest problems while also exposing employees to people in different roles. And tools like Gloat and Fuel50, which create internal marketplaces for talent, can make it easier to find and match employees for those kinds of projects.
Work-based learning: As part of their education, the vast majority of workers in the healthcare industry—all of those in clinical roles—are required to get on-the-job experience to graduate or advance. In other words, applied learning is baked into the curriculum. This has two distinct advantages:
- First, it gives learners hands-on experience that sets them up to be successful in their future roles, both in terms of practical experience and occupational identity
- Second, it allows employers to test out the skills and work-relevant behaviors of learners, many of whom end up working for the organizations with which they do their clinical training.
These factors help both employees and employers make more informed decisions, and to move forward with confidence. Work-based learning is gaining traction in fields well-beyond healthcare—such as tech, marketing and communications, and finance—and employers would be smart to push for more. That means working more closely with colleges, universities, and other education providers to expand internships, apprenticeships, employer-sponsored projects, and other job placements for learners.
This kind of work-based learning—together with well-trodden pathways and an open view into a wide range of jobs—reflect ways that the healthcare industry has a head start when it comes to showcasing career opportunities and developing strong talent pipelines. They, of course, are no silver bullet. Healthcare continues to have serious challenges with worker recruitment, burnout, and turnover in many roles.
But the industry has blunted the impact by developing clear, highly-visible career pathways and by making investments to make these pathways more accessible. Other industries would do well to pay attention.
Life Sciences, Forbes – Healthcare