The Emerging Workforce is Most Likely in High School Today 

Updated on July 7, 2024
Team of nurses sitting in a eeting

Solving the persistent labor shortage in healthcare is a lot like the weather: It comes up often in conversation, everyone has an opinion on whether it’s improving or getting worse and no one is quite sure what tomorrow is going to be like. That’s about to change.

With the emerging workforce increasingly questioning the value and cost of a college degree, health systems stand to benefit by reaching the employees of tomorrow as soon as they graduate. 

In fact, an ambitious effort is underway to create new high schools that will graduate students directly into high-demand healthcare jobs. Public schools and hospitals in Boston, Dallas, New York and other cities are participating in the venture. All told, the schools will collectively serve nearly 6,000 students.

As impressive as that sounds, health systems are trying to attract even younger people to the profession, going so far as to hold career fairs in elementary schools.

In higher education, the University of Virginia runs a program that offers hands-on, on-the-job training for anyone with a high school diploma. No health experience necessary.

Health systems have inherent employment advantages, namely: They’re usually the largest employer in every city; and everyone knows where their neighborhood hospital is.

But the industry is notoriously bad at filling roles quickly. Part of the reason is that health systems have a blind spot when it comes to knowing applicants who have already applied for roles, but didn’t get hired. There is a huge missed opportunity to tap in and communicate with the community they already serve.

There’s no shortage of roles that need to be filled, and they run the gamut from environmental services, dietary nutritionists, nursing assistants and accounting. Of the 8.3 million new jobs projected to be added by 2031, almost one-quarter will be in healthcare, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So it’s never too early to start recruiting.

Skills and AI

The question becomes how can health systems develop young peoples’ skills and then put them into appropriate roles based on those qualifications?

That’s where technology comes into play. Artificial intelligence is getting smarter at identifying what people are good at and making recommendations to hiring managers. That includes existing employees as well as external candidates. 

Franciscan Health, which operates hospitals in Indiana and Illinois, employs AI to get a leg up on the never-ending race for talent, allowing recruiters to spend more one-on-one time with candidates. “With automations and AI, we’re decreasing recruiters’ workloads so they can get back to that human touch,” said Ellen Page, director of talent acquisition.

The Cigna Group is discovering thousands of new skills among its global workforce, preparing them for their next role in the company.

“We have 74,000 employees, which are 74,000 candidates that we could be touching every single day,” said Mandy Day, vice president of global talent acquisition, in an interview. The health insurance giant lets people explore different roles, even if they’re not looking to make a permanent change.

“Creating a world where that can exist and they can try something outside of their swim lane,” Day said. “Maybe they’re not ready to make a shift from marketing to finance, but they want to learn more about it.”

How can organizations mimic this success? Start with a skills inventory. There are several platforms that can help with that. Have the skills verified and then authenticated by a manager.

According to comprehensive research, the top emerging skills of the industry as a whole include:

  • Pharmacogenomics (how genes affect a person’s response to drugs)
  • Genetic Engineering (manipulation of an organism’s genetic material to produce desired traits or outcomes)
  • Precision Medicine (the study of individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for disease prevention and treatment)
  • Bioinformatics (integration of biology, computer science, and information technology to analyze and interpret biological data)

The common thread running through these jobs and many others —  they’re all tech roles.

From Security Guard to CEO

Bob Riney was a security guard at Michigan-based Henry Ford Health before working his way up the ladder to become chief executive officer and president. He now runs a system that trains more than 4,000 medical students, residents and fellows every year across a host of accredited programs.

His is but one example of someone who made it to the top.

Nancy Agee was a candy striper at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Va. decades ago before becoming CEO of the $2 billion non-profit. Meanwhile, the president and CEO of Adventist Health in Oregon was 13 years old when she started her first job in healthcare in a barn that stored body parts in jars of formaldehyde.

Non-traditional paths like these prove that a worthwhile career is in the offing for anyone who wants one. That front desk receptionist at the local hospital may very well be running the place one day.

Future Trends

In addition to skills-first hiring, here are some other ways hiring practices are likely to change in the years ahead.

  1. Licensures will be broken up into certain skill paths. The problem with an RN license today is it’s all or nothing. An education requires a substantial amount of money which many people don’t have, especially the emerging workforce. The RN licensure may be divided into five or 10 sub-certifications, each a stepping stone to the next one as skills are acquired. That leads to a steady, good-paying career out of high school with a set path to gaining more knowledge and skills.
  2. AI will help surgeons and clinicians become more efficient. One example is in radiology. Once an X-ray is taken, AI can compare it to millions of other X-rays and automatically highlight problem spots that the physician needs to look at. It takes time to examine an image, and humans often miss something. AI will never replace an actual doctor, but it can help save lives by detecting health issues that could go undiagnosed — and bring even more efficiencies to healthcare professionals. 

So while we can agree to disagree on the weather, it is indisputable that a) the future of healthcare lies with the students who are graduating from high school and b) employers need to be able to inventory, assess and teach the in-demand skills that health systems require for good patient outcomes.

A forward-thinking mindset is just what our industry needs in a hiring crunch. The care industry as a whole is changing, which means health systems need to recruit and develop talent differently than they ever have before.

Luke Carignan
Luke Carignan
Director of Healthcare at Phenom

Luke Carignan helps health systems hire smarter, faster and more efficiently in his role at Phenom, a global HR technology company in greater Philadelphia. He is the co-host of “The Bo and Luke Show” and The American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration podcasts.