America has a grave shortage of health care workers but, paradoxically, it contains its own solution: Entry-level workers could serve in critical skilled roles if only they had the means to advance their careers.
That’s a key takeaway from a report released last week by the White House-backed Health Career Pathways task force, which commended Fairview Health Services as a leader nationally in confronting the problem.
“The shortages are so great in health care,” said Laura Beeth, Fairview’s director of talent acquisition. “Look at us: we have 975 openings and we have 150 provider openings” for doctors and practitioners.
Nationally, the U.S. health care workforce grew in 2015 by more than 500,000 workers. But the need is growing even faster as more Americans gain health insurance and more baby boomers reach retirement age.
Fairview’s strategies include apprenticeships and scholarships to recruit and advance entry-level workers. The Minneapolis-based health system has committed to hiring 200 young workers in their first jobs over the next two years, and to creating an advancement ladder so that $21,000 food service associates, with the right training and dedication, could become $101,000 nurse practitioners.
Beeth said diverse neighborhoods such as Cedar-Riverside have talented people with education levels such as two-year degrees, which leave them short of qualifying for certain specialties.
“Many employers say, ‘We’re not going to hire these two-year grads.’ Well, those two-year grads speak multiple languages and they come from all of the communities we serve,” she said. “So … the right answer is, ‘How do they obtain the credentials you need to work in your system?’ ”
Strategies include flexible hours and keeping employees at the height of their skills. An entry-level worker might need four years to earn a degree as a psychological assistant, but can be promoted to a behavioral assistant by year two.
Fairview is also expanding its apprenticeship program beyond nursing and providing on-the-job training to surgical technicians and medical assistants. “Electricians and plumbers have been doing apprenticeships forever,” Beeth said. “Health care typically hasn’t done that.”