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By Matthew Keahey, National Vice President, Operations, Medxcel
Worker retention and succession planning are nothing new to healthcare facility CEOs. Five years ago, global business membership and research association Conference Board conducted a survey of 555 CEOs to gauge their greatest business challenges. As Becker’s Hospital Review reported at the time, a significant problem facing CEOs was their aging workforce and the need to develop a new generation of workers amidst emerging challenges.
Today, during a pandemic, record resignations and a worker shortage, these fears are still at the top of the list of issues keeping CEOs up at night.
The human capital challenge in 2017 called for renewed investment and training strategies to develop both new and current employees into leaders to counter the then-existing labor gap. That labor strain has only intensified thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. As healthcare facilities head into 2022, facility leaders are faced with immense pressure to fill open positions – and are competing with other industries for the estimated 3 to 4 million workers needed in 2022.
Healthcare was already feeling the strain from Baby Boomers reaching retirement age en masse. According to Pew Research Center, the retirement rate of Baby Boomers accelerated further when roughly 3.2 million additional workers retired in 2020 than in 2019. Astute leaders feel that pressure and are working to replace Baby Boomers before more potential retirees take their skills and knowledge with them.
Looking forward, we must begin now by investing our time and resources into future facility leaders, and millennials should be our target population. Recent data shows us that 35% of the US workforce are millennials, making this the largest working age demographic. Investments in these associates should include succession plans that equip them with the necessary tools and skills to carry on the work of their experienced predecessors. Our second investment: Gen Z. Together with millennials, they make up nearly half of the workforce. Gen Z are the future of our healthcare system. We must ensure development training programs are in place where they can learn, grow and thrive as leaders.
Next, we need to fill the gaps that currently exist with skilled trades. Unfortunately, we still find a tremendous lack of formal succession planning and trades development training in our industry, which means healthcare facilities are increasingly more dependent on external service contracts to fill the skill gaps on-site. Outsourcing services can work well in some situations, but it often comes at a price tag that’s many times what it would cost you to develop the same capabilities in-house. Within the marketplace, even our trade partners are beginning to feel the shortage of qualified talent. This is resulting in increased costs and job delays waiting on skilled labor. Together with our trade partners, we must create pathways of growth for skilled labor.
As it happens, increased service contract costs are a common symptom when hospitals don’t recognize skilled trade areas or specialty training as necessary parts of their on-site workforce. This is especially true in critical facilities management support functions like emergency management, environment of care, safety and compliance. These focuses cannot simply be on the list of someone’s myriad duties.
As Medxcel’s Vice President of Emergency Management, Environment of Care and Safety has shared, “Having a well-established emergency management (EM) team lays the foundation for successfully addressing any unexpected crises. Emergency is a multi-disciplinary effort, and an EM team’s strength is in the ability to help a facility through coordinating responses, following procedures and maintaining safety.” Some emergencies don’t end after a few days or weeks, and staff with a committed focus ensures successful responses.
In working with hundreds of healthcare leaders, Medxcel has seen this all in action: Leaders losing sleep over attracting, retaining and growing talent – particularly those with highly technical skills. To that end, Medxcel helped facilities grow independent from external service contracts by training the next-generation workforce and putting the right strategies in place to ensure highly technical work can be completed in-house.
As we review our data at Medxcel, we have placed over 2,300 associates in 160 hospitals. The average age of industry workers is 41, according to the Department of Labor statistics. The average age of our workforce at Medxcel Facilities Management is 51, so we very much understand the pain of healthcare leaders, and a heightened sense of urgency in developing the next generation.
The Baby Boomer generation has decades of valuable knowledge and skills – both in terms of their skilled craft and institutional knowledge. A successful succession plan can’t wait. It needs to ensure effective recruiting and training of new hires, of course, but it can’t stop there. It must also (a) ensure successful knowledge transfer from aging workers; (b) the ability to communicate effectively across generations; and (c) include employee engagement and recognition strategies so associates stick around for lifelong development and opportunities and see a future within the organization.
The pandemic threw a wrench in every business’s plan, and the Great Resignation isn’t doing any favors for succession planning. If your succession strategy hasn’t already started putting these components to work, there’s no time to wait. Someone is going to attract and train workers. Will it be you?
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About the Author: Matthew Keahey serves as the National Vice President, Operations for Medxcel. Keahey oversees facilities management services, PDC, energy and safety, environment of care and emergency management for hospital sites throughout the U.S. and manages Medxcel’s proprietary integrated service delivery model while focusing on customer relations and strategic development. Medxcel provides healthcare service support products and drives in-house capabilities, savings and efficiencies for healthcare organizations.