Numbers – particularly statistics – have a way of feeling theoretical. That’s certainly the case with the healthcare talent shortage where big numbers – like the shortage of as many as a million nurses by 2020 – are hard to grasp.
But for those on the front lines of healthcare, the shortage is very real.
That came through loud and clear recently when I sat with HR people from top hospitals around the country at our Bright Horizons Solutions at Work LIVE conference’s People Strategies in Healthcare Forum. Staffing is a real challenge. Leeann Cerimele, the CHRO from West Virginia University Medicine, told us her organization had to find more than 2,000 employees last year – including more than 200 RNs alone in just 150 days.
“Trust me,” Leeann told us, “there is a nursing shortage. We had to recruit from everywhere to get nurses to come work for us. And we had to be very creative.”
The Healthcare Talent Shortage: More Than a Recruitment Problem
But as Leeann and others made clear, the healthcare talent shortage is not just a recruitment problem. On one side, you’ve got an aging workforce, with massive numbers of nurses who are eligible to retire. At WVU Medicine, a thousand of the 4,700 nurses – more than a fifth! — will reach retirement-eligible age in seven years. That’s a staggering number.
On the other side, you’ve got young employees just coming into the healthcare workforce who can afford to be picky about job selection. In healthcare there are not enough graduates coming out of college each year to fill all of the vacant roles created by retirement and innovation. We’re at a point where there’s a single hire for every two new job openings. And that gap is only going to continue to grow.
Employees in the Driver’s Seat
The challenge then is for employers to balance both sides of the equation – appealing to the existing talent they need to keep and the new talent they need to hire. In fact, Leeann said many older employers are working expressly for the benefits, meaning they’ll potentially bolt if the offerings fall short. She talked about breakfasts her organization’s president hosts for veteran employees to find out what these employees are thinking, and what they’d need to stay. What’s emerged is an opportunity in education, specifically for children of employees to attend the University of West Virginia for free. “What if we could offer a really good benefit like that to our staff that have been there long term?” Leeann asked. WVU Medicine is currently working with us to bring in that and other education benefits.
Millennials are also looking for programs that speak directly to their needs. Recruited from far and wide means many arrive at WVU from out of state and without family support. “They’re looking for a good child care support system,” said Leeann.
More Than a Theoretical Challenge
It’s an intricate puzzle. And a lot of healthcare systems are getting ahead of the curve, looking at how these challenges will affect their departments, and talking to us about what we can do to help. It’s the reason we’re currently working to create a package of solutions specifically for healthcare providers to address all demographics in the healthcare employee chain.
What’s clear is the shortage is already playing out. And the most effective benefits strategies are proving to be the ones that effectively reach all employees. WVU Medicine’s program is about to come in handy again, with Leeann telling us that in 2017, she’ll be looking to fill roughly 800 positions…and that’s just on a single campus.
It’s a substantial challenge. And for WVU and other organizations with such hiring goals, the kind that’s way more than theoretical.