What Amazon, Hyatt can teach health systems about managing a skills gap


When healthcare organizations are operating under normal conditions, flaws in the system may go unnoticed. Radical changes in day-to-day life, on the other hand — disruptors such as the COVID-19 pandemic — reveal how well a system actually works.

"When we're under disruption of some kind, our faults, our challenges — whether individually or organizationally — seem to magnify themselves," said Tom Tonkin, PhD, Cornerstone OnDemand senior principal of thought-leadership and advisory services. "We should take advantage of this time to see what those stress fractures are in our foundation and address them."

In a webinar sponsored by Cornerstone and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Dr. Tonkin explained how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated staffing challenges in healthcare, and shared key lessons from other industries.

Persistent staffing challenges

As of January 2019, there were approximately 6.5 million Americans looking for work and 7.6 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. Most job-seeking individuals didn't have the right skills for the open positions, Dr. Tonkin said, and the skills divide only worsened when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

Healthcare organizations have long had to face the challenges presented by a dwindling pool of provider talent. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic has made staffing challenges even worse for hospitals handling a surge of COVID-19 patients. Other hospitals are sitting vacant or operating at limited capacity due to elective case restrictions. These sudden and unprecedented changes are forcing healthcare organizations to rethink their staffing configurations and make adjustments on the fly.

While assembling an adjunct workforce to quickly fill critical positions, healthcare organizations must be careful not to pull workers from areas where they're needed or better suited. They can look to hotels and logistics companies for guidance, Dr. Tonkin said.

Models from outside industries 

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have upended both the hotel and logistics industries. There is now a huge need for home deliveries — Amazon has hired tens of thousands of workers to meet demand — but for the same reason, people aren't staying in hotels.

Both handling unexpected staffing challenges, Amazon and Hyatt Hotels partnered to place workers where they were needed. With training, furloughed hotel employees were "reskilled" to provide the fulfilment services Amazon needs during the pandemic, Dr. Tonkin said.

Amazon isn't the only beneficiary in this arrangement. Hyatt workers get an income-generating position when they'd otherwise be going unpaid, and Hyatt can hire back those employees once the pandemic subsides — thereby avoiding the costs and challenges associated with recruiting new workers.

Strategic skills utilization

Like fulfillment employees, critical care nurses are urgently needed during the pandemic, Dr. Tonkin said. Because of elective procedure standstills, other nurses — in dermatology, for instance — can be available to fill these roles.

The best way to bring displaced "nonessential" practitioners (as defined by the government) into the pandemic fight is to understand existing workforce capabilities, including staff certifications, experiences and skills learned on the hospital floor, according to Dr. Tonkin.

This knowledge, paired with an understanding of where staffing gaps are, will help organizations tailor training and experiential programs to the workers best suited to quickly fill those areas of need. By understanding their employees' diverse skills, organizations can also be better positioned to strategically allocate resources.

"Every little skill you find can help in the future," Dr. Tonkin said. "This might happen again, and we'll be better prepared for that."

The COVID-19 pandemic is a true disruptor by Dr. Tonkin's definition, an external force that we have little control over. But it won't be the only one healthcare experiences. According to Dr. Tonkin, healthcare organizations can apply lessons from the current pandemic — including how to quickly assemble an adjunct workforce — to any other disruptor on the horizon.

In a follow-up webinar April 28, Dr. Tonkin will expand on how healthcare organizations can provide effective management during the COVID-19 crisis and explain how to drive innovation, creativity and employee engagement. Click here to learn more and register.

Click here to access a recording of the webinar and presentation.

More articles on workforce:
Virginia Mason Memorial cuts nonmedical employees' hours
Massachusetts hospitals move thousands of workers into new roles
NYC Health + Hospitals requires nurses to have physician's note after 1 absence 


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