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Investing In Frontline Hospital Workers Pays Dividends


Promoting the business case for investing in frontline hospital workers.

Healthcare, one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors in the United States, is labor intensive. In addition to doctors and nurses, many front line workers—nursing assistants, housekeepers, medical assistants, unit secretaries, dietary service workers—provide continuous support. Unfortunately, many of these low-wage workers lack pathways to higher skills and better-paying jobs. At the same time, health care employers struggle to find and retain qualified workers for such jobs.

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions offers promising solutions in CareerSTAT: A Guide to Making the Case for Investing in the Frontline Hospital Workforce, a guidebook that documents effective practices in leading US hospitals. It presents the arguments that managers themselves make for investing in the training and education of less-skilled workers, along with the types of evidence and metrics that managers and senior decision makers find most persuasive. Investing in the education, training, and career advancement of these employees pays off in enhanced individual performance, better-functioning patient care teams, expanded pipelines for filling positions and, ultimately, improved patient care.

Ohio’s Humility of Mary Health Partners’ vice president for human resources, Molly Seals, says that the primary benefit of such programs is they enable lower-tier workers to advance. As Seals asks, “Are we preparing them to be all they can be” and to view their job as a beginning to a career?

Training is most valuable when it leads directly to an available job. By promoting industry training partnerships, the Joyce Foundation works to ensure training aligns with local job opportunities. Specifically, the Foundation supports expanding partnerships between industry associations or groups of businesses and educational organizations to create and promote career advancement opportunities.

There is no one-size-fits-all model for hospitals to invest in their frontline workforce, but certain features are common:

  • Clear pathways and guidance for advancing to higher-skilled roles, both within an employee’s current occupation and in additional fields;
  • Instruction at the workplace in basic or remedial skills, technical skills, and credit-bearing academic courses leading to a certificate or degree, plus tutoring;
  • Intensive coaching and mentoring, cohort-based learning, assistance with interpersonal or soft skills and other critical work behaviors; and
  • Supportive human resources policies and practices, including release time for training at work; assessment of education, skill levels, and career interests; extensive orientation; and pre-payment of tuition benefits when enrolling in a course of study.

CareerSTAT: A Guide to Making the Case for Investing in the Frontline Hospital Workforce offers recommendations for making effective practice standard practice.

Engaging managers in various clinical units, as well as senior leadership, helps build a learning culture. Using multiple methods to measure impact—hard data such as retention or cost figures combined with information about workers’ perceptions acquired through interviews—supplies more nuanced evidence of benefits.

Additional CareerSTAT reports will be released as this National Fund for Workforce Solutions Initiative continues to document effective practices and return on investment.

The CareerSTAT guide was funded by the Joyce Foundation and other members of The National Fund for Workforce Solutions, an initiative of national and local funders whose goal is the career advancement of low-wage workers. Since 2007, the Fund has invested in organizing employers, creating workforce partnerships, and advocating for public policies and private practices that make businesses more competitive and workers more likely to earn family-sustaining wage.

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