There is No One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Upskilling in Healthcare: 3 Things Leaders Need to Consider

The healthcare industry continues to face unprecedented workforce challenges, including clinician burnout, turnover, a depleted leadership pipeline, and a host of others triggered by policy changes, cost cutting, and digital transformation. With each challenge, we’ve seen new skill gaps emerge — from clinicians asked to take on new responsibilities, to administrators covering multiple roles, to entirely new needs that systems were never built to address — and yet workers are rarely given the tools, training, or support to meet these new needs.

This cycle perpetuates eroding job satisfaction, burnout, and more turnover1 — with an estimated 47% of U.S. healthcare workers planning to leave their current role2 within the next two to three years. It’s clear that quick-fixes aren’t working, and that the time has come to address deeper, root causes that can drive long-term, lasting improvement.

The good news is that there is a solution. Comprehensive upskilling and reskilling programs are critical to breaking the healthcare burnout cycle3, building attractive incentives that strengthen the incoming hiring pipeline, and supporting our current workforce with real solutions and lasting retention. But: healthcare systems are not homogeneous, and understanding the unique dynamics of your organization is critical to building a learning and development (L&D) program that drives real, lasting change.

How can healthcare leaders build an L&D program that works? Here are 3 critical considerations when evaluating the right workforce development solution for your organization.

Relevance — When considering partners in L&D, take time to carefully think about how the curriculum can specifically and meaningfully address your health system’s challenges. Are the programs specific and relevant? Different organizations have different needs, from upskilling in clinical areas, to supporting stress management, to developing leaders with executive education. Across healthcare, 53% of workers say they are very interested or highly interested in upskilling4. How can you engage that group, and find new opportunities for others? Think about the wide range of needs of your team members5, listen to employee feedback, and ensure there are solutions to support both hard and soft skills.

It’s also important to keep in mind that healthcare organizations are not only competing with other healthcare systems, but also with other industries entirely. Relevance should go beyond short-term needs and embrace all the creative ways your organization can retain your best talent. For example, rather than a burned-out clinical leader leaving the industry, reskilling paths can provide new opportunities to apply their institutional knowledge to other operational roles. Where are there unique opportunities in your organization? Where can internal knowledge transfers be a benefit and opportunity? Choose L&D partners that allow for customization, meeting your needs and giving employees choice. 

Accessibility — Arguably just as important as the course curriculums themselves is their logistical feasibility. One element of this is course structure. Consider if programs are delivered in a way that staff can realistically commit to and learn from. This includes flexible formats that complement the unique working shifts within your organization, from mobile microlearning to workshops to short certificates to full degrees. Are courses offered during or outside of working hours? Are there options to participate synchronously and asynchronously? Are there courses of different lengths and time commitments? The greater variety of programs, the greater likelihood it will meet the needs of a diverse team.

Another element is affordability. As much as possible, empower your teams with all the resources, technologies, materials, and tuition-as-a-benefit upfront funding to complete a course. Within your own workforce, know which benefits are going to be most important to employees.

Some helpful benchmarks can be found in a 2021 Gallup/Amazon study6 including that 72% of health care workers want employer-sponsored training, and 66% want it provided during regular working hours. But that still means that ~30% might prefer a different approach. Each employee will have their own preferences. Build benchmarks and collaborate with your L&D partner to make sure your offerings are accessible, equitably offered, and used equally across your organization.

Motivation — Perhaps most importantly, workforce development initiatives have to have buy-in from employees to make a meaningful impact. Above all, employees must believe L&D will solve real-world challenges. This comes when they gain actionable insights to address the very specific problem(s) they are facing, rather than discussion of high-level theories. Leaders know their teams best – they can customize the rollout, curriculum and approach to best suit their teams’ needs. Employees also have to see long-term value in the form of opportunities for advancement within their current career path. Better yet, do these programs give them externally transferable skills that will help them grow in their career long-term? Surveys show that nearly 95% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in helping them learn7.

In order to meaningfully address the workforce development needs of the healthcare industry, we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to L&D. Each health system needs to assess their unique needs and implement training programs to address them — including diverse and varied opportunities for employees at all levels, from the front lines to the C-suite. Investing in the development of our workforce will not only be critical to abating the massive global workforce shortage8, but also to supporting better working conditions and job satisfaction, and ultimately better patient care.

Ranil Herath is the President of Emeritus Healthcare, an online healthcare workforce development curriculum. He brings over 20 years of leadership experience in higher education and healthcare, working in Asia, Canada, and the US. 











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