A New Approach to Long-Term Staff Development Is Overdue
You’re CHRO of a major healthcare U.S. healthcare provider. Other than the endless operational challenges, something big is keeping you up at night: How are you going to hire, retain and grow your clinical workforce?
Believe it or not, healthcare is now the largest employer in the United States. One in seven Americans work in this industry, and our analysis shows that by 2025 there will be a shortage of 2.1 million clinical professionals. The “exit rate” in many organizations is 60% or higher, so health care providers have to recruit, retain, reskill and redesign these jobs all at once.
And this is a workforce with many complex needs. More than 80% of nurses are women, so they bear the brunt of caregiver duties for children and aging parents. The average age of nurses is 52, and almost 42% are nearing retirement age.
An Investment in Career Pathways
Recently, my research team decided to look at the problem of talent in the field. As we talked with CHROs throughout the industry, one thing became clear — the best healthcare providers are singularly focused on creating a work experience that attracts, retains and develops their care professionals with excellence. Let me illustrate that commitment through the story of one of the trailblazers in this industry, Bon Secours Mercy Health.
Bon Secours Mercy Health operates 48 hospitals, over 1,000 points of care and over 60,000 employees across seven U.S. states and the Republic of Ireland. Founded by nuns with a mission to help care for the poor, it is now the largest Catholic health system in the U.S. and also the largest not-for-profit health provider in Ireland. It manages its staff through a talent model that enables anyone interested in clinical work to grow and build a career, through their innovative use of “Career Pathways.”
What is a career pathway? It’s a new, innovative program that allows any individual move from an entry-level job to a specialized, high-skill, higher-paying job through education, coaching and experience. You could start at Bon Secours Mercy Health as an ambulatory technician (helping patients walk) and move into roles in nursing, diagnostics, IT and more.
And this investment, which feels like it should be done by educational institutions, pays off. Among U.S. workers who left a job in 2021, 63% say they left because there were no opportunities for advancement. Bon Secours Mercy Health (and other healthcare providers adopting career pathways) is committed to solving this problem.
How does this work? In the case of Bon Secours Mercy Health, the company created a number of interlocking steps: from talking to a laundry service employee about being a nurse and encouraging them to develop their expertise and become a registered nurse or a nursing manager.
These career pathways identify the education, degrees or credentials needed. The company partners with strategic educational institutions and invests in people to move them through these journeys.
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A Career Pathway Is a Bigger Concept Than a Career Path
Note, I didn’t say career path. A career path refers to a traditional growth path within your functional career. In my case, starting out as an engineer, that meant beginning my career as a junior engineer, and after two or three years becoming a project engineer, and after another two or three years becoming an advisory engineer, etc. Eventually, after I completed the prerequisite, predetermined steps, I would become an engineering manager.
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But what if I didn’t want to be an engineer anymore? Or maybe that job family has lost favor in the market? Historically, it would mean having to start a new path, likely from the very beginning.
Today, people live longer and have many careers. They want to find opportunities for new professional growth. If you, as an employer, don’t help people move to adjacent opportunities, they’ll simply find these opportunities elsewhere. (Or maybe “quietly quit.”)
Career pathways enable organizations to tap into diverse talent pools, such as frontline workers and underserved populations, and through reskilling and developing new skills, give those people growth, future-proofed jobs, and higher-pay levels. Or as Joe Gage, CHRO at Bon Secours Mercy Health put it: “We’ve always talked about empowering people to own their careers and with career pathways, we have finally given them the right combination of tools, insights, and direction to be able to do that.”
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Career Pathways: The Best Solution to Plugging the Skills Gap
Amazing new tools are emerging to help organizations that want to build their own career pathways. Our research found that almost every industry needs to hire or train people for new and changing roles, yet finding these people in the job market is difficult. By developing expertise in career pathways, you can move marketing analysts into data science, auditors into cyber security, and janitors or cleaning staff into clinical roles. The opportunities are endless.
In healthcare, the problem is urgent. As we studied the industry, we realized that no amount of hiring would possibly fill this gap. Every hospital and healthcare network needs to invest in this strategy now as the population continues to age and the healthcare industry continues to expand.
And the outcomes will be even better than you anticipate. When you invest in career pathways for your organization, employees become excited and engaged. It’s easier to recruit, and your customers and patients see a workforce that loves their work every single day.
Yes, HR is a big and often bureaucratic profession. But, every now and then, a pioneering strategy takes hold, and career pathways are one of the most important innovations in a decade.
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About the Author
Josh is an analyst and thought leader specializing in the global talent market and the challenges and trends affecting business workforces around the world, he is currently the CEO of The Josh Bersin Company.