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March 11, 2021 | Human Resources | Posted by Ascentis Thought Leadership

How to Prepare Your Healthcare Organization for the Skilled Workforce Shortage

If you’re a human resources professional in the healthcare industry, you’re probably already well aware that recruiting and retention are a perennial challenge. Unfortunately, all current indicators suggest that this isn’t a problem that’s going away any time soon. More people are living longer due to advancements in medical care, greater mindfulness of personal health decisions, and the sheer size of the Baby Boomer generation.

With the over-65 population projected to grow by 48% by 2032, more patients will enter long-term care situations at the same time as older healthcare workers retire or leave the field. The Bureau of Labor projects a need for 1.1 million new RNs in the next two years, and 83% of healthcare executives already report experiencing nursing shortages as of December 2020. Those factors are poised create a perfect storm of limited supply and high demand in the near future.

While staffing will likely always be an issue for healthcare HR, there are also a number of measures you can take to put your organization in a better position to deal with workforce shortages in both the present and the future.

Understand your environment

A successful strategy for future staffing needs to be proactive, not reactive. In an industry where the stakes and stress levels are consistently high, it can be difficult to make time to plan very far ahead, but that’s exactly what healthcare employers need to do. Remember that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all staffing solution. The needs and challenges facing care facilities will vary widely depending on demographics, geography, and other factors beyond the control of healthcare administrators. Understanding and accounting for those factors is necessary when building out a workforce management plan.

For a few examples: a long-term care facility in a rural area may have a more difficult time attracting new hires than one in a densely populated urban community due simply to a comparatively smaller pool of available talent. States in warmer climates with a larger concentration of retirees and seniors are likely to see a higher demand for skilled healthcare workers. A small hospice care center will have very different staffing needs than a multi-unit long-term care facility. Customizing your workforce planning to match the realities of your environment is crucial for the lasting success of your efforts.

Make entry level hires

It’s understandable that employers want to seek out the most highly qualified candidates possible to fill healthcare positions. These are roles that carry a great level of responsibility, and hiring highly pedigreed employees helps to establish a facility’s reputation and establish confidence in the families of potential patients and residents. Realistically, however, hiring and retaining enough of these fully certified professionals to keep your facility fully and consistently staffed is beyond the scope of most healthcare organizations.

Healthcare employers can help narrow the skills gap by maintaining a certain number of true entry level positions that can be filled by recent college or high school graduates. Establishing this kind of policy helps to attract young employees who are eager to launch their healthcare careers. Recent graduates may be less prone to burnout than more experienced employees, which can cut down on the staggering turnover rates (between 45% and 65%) reported by long-term care facilities, while also cutting down on the payroll expenses that come with hiring more seasoned workers.

Entry-level workers can also be seen as something of a blank slate, allowing employers more flexibility to train their new hires in skills and duties specific to an organization. That benefits the employer by creating a wider pool of skilled workers, and by making newer hires feel more engaged and valued in their roles. That in turn can theoretically improve retention levels by making employees feel more invested in their work. In many cases, a facility may be able to establish a partnership with an area college or university, effectively providing a pipeline of the entry-level workers who keep the day-to-day functions of healthcare operating smoothly.

Listen to your employee data

As important as it is to pay close attention to geographic data and industry trends, some of the most important information you need to consider comes from inside your own organization. In an industry where burnout and turnover are perennial stumbling blocks, keeping a close watch on your workers’ stress levels, shift schedules, and overall productivity can be the difference between maintaining a fully staffed operation and scrambling to fill in the gaps.

Carefully monitoring your facility’s time and attendance and scheduling data can help your HR management team understand what processes and policies may need to be revisited in order to make your employees’ workdays less stressful. For example, if data shows that you are seeing consistently higher rates of overtime hours from employees who regularly work a certain shift, that can be an indication that it’s time to interview that shift’s managers and workers and adjust your practices accordingly. That also means maintaining open lines of communication so that employees can provide direct, honest feedback about the specific issues that create the most stress on the job. By listening to your workers’ needs and taking action accordingly, your HR team can build a more fulfilling, less turnover-prone workplace for both the present and the future.

Invest in workplace learning

Sometimes employees choose to move on from healthcare facilities not because they’re overworked or burned out, but simply because they’ve outgrown their roles. If an employee feels they have no chance for advancement in your organization, they don’t have a great deal of incentive to stay in a role that likely comes with higher stress and lower pay than other opportunities might offer. Retaining high quality workers means providing your existing staff with the tools and support system to continue growing the longer they stay in your employ. That often means offering on-the-job training, education, and certification programs.

Beyond keeping your employees empowered and engaged, improving your on-the-job education system also helps remedy potential staffing shortages by building a more broadly qualified and interchangeable workforce. In an industry like healthcare where key tasks often require specific training and certifications, it is well worth investing in a learning management system that can get as many workers as possible trained in those functions can help prevent uncovered shifts and skills gaps that decrease productivity and morale. Having a more flexible workforce with diverse training also helps cut down on overtime hours via simply having more workers on hand who can perform tasks that might otherwise require a certified employee to put in more hours each week. By expanding the knowledge and skills of your entire workforce, you create a more harmonious, compliant, and beneficial work environment for your employees, patients, and management alike.

While it’s unlikely that the issues contributing to the ongoing workforce shortage in the healthcare industry will be going away any time in the foreseeable future, a conscientious effort by your human resources team can go a long way toward mitigating the risks posed by gaps in skills and staffing levels. Find out how workforce management solutions from Ascentis can help your organization build a more future-proof employment strategy.

With more than 35 years of experience in providing Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, Ascentis thought leaders have become a respected source for insights, tips, and innovations in the Human Capital Management (HCM) space.