How gig work fits into Intermountain's 'inside up' staffing strategy

Amid today's talent market, hospitals and health system leaders are rethinking how they train and upskill workers. This is especially crucial as they need to fill staffing gaps and ensure their operational needs are met to address industry challenges.

Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health, a 33-hospital system serving patients and communities in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Kansas, is using various approaches, including human capital management software provider Workday, to reskill employees by providing gig work.

Marguerite Samms, RN, MN, vice president and chief learning officer in human resources at Intermountain, told Becker's the efforts began in recent years and have led to recent promotions for some team members. She shared her organization's approach to gig work to reskill or upskill workers and discussed what gig roles look like at Intermountain.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: How is Intermountain rethinking its approach to employee training and upskilling to keep pace with the current healthcare talent market?

Marguerite Samms: Two big national challenges for the industry right now are a shortage of workers, specifically nurses and other clinical roles, and separately, a shortage of skills because skills are changing and AI and technology are quickly evolving. It's very difficult to keep up with that demand. And so we've had to look at new and different strategies to create more of an environment of learning and the conditions for learning so that each individual caregiver can drive their own learning. And that's helping to keep up with the pace of change and helping each of our caregivers. We're doing everything we can to help our caregivers drive their own careers but also keep up with their current jobs and be ready for the next job.

Q: How is Intermountain providing workers with access to hands-on training by letting them take on gig work?

MS: Our caregivers really learn best through experiences. So we've looked at new ways of creating experiences that are relevant to learning on the job. We're using a variety of things, gigs being one of them. And we're using Workday to help support gigs and help communicate them, help design them and help connect people with gigs. For example, I had a need to start an apprentice program about two years ago, and it would be the first time that we had had an apprentice program, which is another innovation that we've brought to healthcare that's common in other industries. And we had to start this quickly. And so I created a gig in Workday and looked in the organization for someone who is interested in taking on additional responsibilities and had a leader that was supportive of them. Practicing some skills, doing a project in another department. And so we had the executive assistant of Chief People Officer Heather Brace sign up for the gig, got the support of her supervisor to do it, and she took on the project of helping us quickly stand up apprentice programs. She already had a PhD in learning pedagogy. As time went by, she ended up applying to be the manager of the apprentice program and got that job through the gig. She competed with all the other candidates to get the job of manager of the apprentice program. And it was because she had the chance to do the job, learn the skills and demonstrate that she could do them. She learned what she needed to do to compete for that job. And she increased her salary by about 35% by getting that promotion, and she's done really, really well in that job. So some of the benefits of using Workday is when we build the gig, we're able to put in there what skills you will gain by doing this gig. And then Workday automatically writes those skills to the individual's profile and then pushes job opportunities that come up to the person because they have those skills. 

Q: What do these gig roles look like typically? How do they help employees learn new skills?

MS: We started a year ago to pilot gigs in the human resources department, and we've had about 30 people in those gigs in HR. The manager has to learn new skills on how to use a gig worker, and the organization has to look at its policies and procedures when you have hourly people versus salaried people doing gigs. So there's a fair amount of organizational design that goes with the gigs. But we've been doing them in HR for the last year, and we're just about ready to expand into a couple of other departments. We're piloting them and learning how to do them. For example, I needed help running my town halls because there's always maybe a guest speaker or a topic that needs to be researched. And for me to go from quarterly town halls to monthly, which is what the team wanted, I needed help. So I created a gig as a partner to me for my town halls, and one of my up and coming individual contributors who wanted to be a leader signed up for that gig. It was a yearlong gig, and she is helping co-lead the town hall. So she helps shape the content. She's reaching out to any guest speakers, she's preparing those guest speakers. She's building some project management skills, some leadership skills and communication skills. And she's becoming more visible. She started this in January, and a few weeks ago, she got promoted to a program manager of our new organizational development department. For me, she was an extender. Times are tight, margins are thin and a gig is a great way to have a win-win. A win for me is getting a little extra help when I need it, and only for what I need, and a win for the caregiver who gets the opportunity to do something outside of their team and to grow their own skills profile.

Q: How have gig roles moved the needle in terms of internal mobility at the health system and worker sentiment around career development?

MS: Being in the pilot, we don't have a long track record or a large population that's used them. But I will say that everyone that's done gigs has stayed with the organization. We know from our engagement survey that our ability to advance careers is one of the motivators. It's a key driver to retention. And if you look at the current dynamics in the labor market and the scarcity of labor, I would say that we have four strategies for how we're dealing with that: reskill, redesign (includes gig work and digital transformation), recruit, and retain. These are the main things that we're working on right now in our workforce strategy.

Q: Moving forward, what is Intermountain's long-term and short-term strategy around upskilling with gig work?

MS: As we look at both short term and long term, it's about a connected pathway outside the organization and into the organization. So getting more disciplined with our career paths and our alignment with talent acquisition. Outside and inside up is our long-term strategy, and inside up means using multiple pathways to help our caregivers advance their careers to whatever extent they want or in some cases, be able to have internal mobility and try different jobs throughout your career. You don't have to leave Intermountain to have a meaningful and progressive career.

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