Front-line Workers: Gateways to Better Business

The health care industry has found a great deal of business value in creating and implementing learning and development-centric talent strategies for front-line workers.

co_1007_short_302As health care delivery transforms and employers battle increasing skilled-worker shortages, health care organizations across the country are focused on building a pipeline of well-trained workers and providing growth opportunities for front-line staff.

You may be thinking, why front-line health care workers?

Those on the front line — patient care technicians, medical assistants, housekeepers and dietary aides — interact with patients and family members more than most other caregivers and, therefore, have a significant impact on patients’ perceptions of their health care experience. But these are demanding positions that can cause burnout and high turnover.

As the labor market tightens and labor shortages increase, by investing in front-line workers’ development employers can not only reduce their labor costs, they also can: improve the patient experience and increase employee engagement, improve retention, improved quality metrics and develop a diverse workforce reflective of the communities they serve.

Fairview Health Services in Minnesota encourages educational development and career growth as a strategy to fill open positions, reduce orientation costs and create a more diverse workforce by offering a comprehensive career pathway program to employees, employee dependents, students and community residents who are interested in pursuing or advancing health care careers.

Over the past 20 years, Fairview’s pipeline programs have helped hundreds of workers develop new careers and fill critical positions within Fairview Health Services. They also have reduced orientation costs for certain positions by 50 percent, generating $40,000 in savings the first year of hire. Further, they have maintained a 99 percent retention rate for their sponsorship programs, which represents a massive savings in turnover and onboarding costs. These programs have been so successful that senior management believes 80 percent of future employees will come from their workforce and student pipeline programs.

Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas has a strategic vision to “grow their own.” The organization recently launched Parkland Academy to provide a spectrum of career development programs for its entry-level and front-line employees. Parkland Academy helps prepare workers for careers as patient care assistants/technicians, supports workers in English language and high school completion courses, and provides tuition benefits to employees for advanced education. These programs have helped overcome local workforce shortages by hiring individuals without medical training and then providing real-time, on-the-job experiences to grow their careers and earning potential.

Finally, Baystate Medical Center, in Springfield, Massachusetts, is creating a coordinated, comprehensive workforce development initiative to give all employees the opportunity to learn, grow and feel valued for doing meaningful work that supports the organization’s mission. In collaboration with local community colleges, Baystate provides on-the-job training programs for newly hired — often less experienced — medical assistants, pharmacy technicians and medical coders. It’s also piloting the Baystate Futures program to support staff in environmental sciences, patient and guest services and engineering to explore different career opportunities. The organization is still measuring ROI, but the Baystate Futures program has helped individual employees navigate new career pathways aligned with critical shortage areas and demonstrated the value of incumbent workforce development programs.

It is important to note that beyond health care organizations, there are organizations in other industries, most notably manufacturing, that are taking these lessons and applying them to cultivate their own strong workforce while meeting their individual business needs.

EcoMize, operating outside of Baltimore, is a great example of a business creating and implementing learning programs to positively affect employee retention and engagement. Believing that “our employees should learn something new every day,” the energy efficiency company provides tuition reimbursement, structured on-the-job education opportunities, paid training time, and flexible scheduling to ensure employees can develop new skills and sharpen their performance. EcoMize expanded this commitment with a new apprenticeship program to train and certify employees as HVAC technicians.

From a business perspective, investing in your front-line workforce is a win-win. Front-line employees, given the opportunity, can develop new skills, deepen their educational background, and actively cultivate their careers. Meanwhile, your organization can reduce turnover and orientation costs, improve performance and increase organizational diversity. By improving workforce skills and education, leaders are investing in better delivery, better outcomes and ultimately a more successful business.

Kelly Aiken is director of CareerSTAT. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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