Engaging Leadership

Frontline workforce initiatives succeed when leadership at all levels—chief executives, department heads, managers, and supervisors of frontline workers—support organizational investments in frontline workers. Having champions who understand and tout program benefits to other leaders helps to secure financial backing and commitment throughout the organization. And above all, strong leadership support binds workforce investment to organizational priorities and goals.

Alignment with Organizational Priorities and Goals

Investments must reflect core organizational priorities to fully engage health care executives in frontline workforce development—and ensure that initiatives become “part of the way we do business” rather than one-time programs. Holy Angels is an independent nonprofit serving approximately around 200 individuals and makes frontline worker investment a major organizational priority to ensure that its direct service workers are equipped to provide the highest quality of care to clients. Holy Angels operates a range of training programs through its Angels University and has lowered staff turnover while securing a consistent retention rate of 82 percent for those who received certification in medication administration.

Senior Leader Support and Sponsorship

Senior leaders such as chief human resource officers, vice presidents, or facility administrators often serve as champions, both internally and to the larger health care and workforce professional community, for the value of training investments. Pacesetters in this role include executives at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who established workforce functions and successfully made the case to their institutions for sustained organizational support. BIDMC’s SVP of Human Resources was an early champion of workforce programming and capacity, overseeing the creation of the Workforce Development Director position.

UnityPoint Report Connecting the DotsManagers as Coaches and Champions

Frontline supervisors or managers play a pivotal role in the career development of incumbent frontline workers. As coaches or mentors, managers support their staff by encouraging them to grow their skills and consider steps to advance their careers. When UnityPoint Health, along with other regional health care employers, realized it was losing frontline workers due to lack of quality supervisors and the absence of a structured program to develop new leaders, it developed “Breakthrough to Leadership” to address this challenge. UnityPoint’s successful programs are analyzed in depth in the CareerSTAT report, “Connecting the Dots: A Case Study of Transforming Care and the Frontline Workforce at UnityPoint Health-Des Moines.”

Developing Infrastructure

While engaged leadership is critical to promoting workforce investment, it is just as important to build policies, systems, and structures to support skill and career development.

Managers as Coaches and Champions

Larger health care employers, especially hospitals and health systems, have established dedicated units or positions devoted to frontline workforce development, as distinct from traditional human resource or staff education departments. Such capacity, whether in a dedicated workforce director or in existing staff education units, is critical if frontline worker development is to remain a an organizational priority. Fairview Health Services in Minnesota has developed a deep infrastructure and longstanding support for workforce development programs. The Workforce Development-Talent Acquisition Department employs nine staff who offer an array of workforce development and career pathway services to all employees, students and community residents, from entry-level through professional graduate degree programs.

Employee Skill and Educational Assessments

Effectively coaching frontline workers often depends on assessing their skill levels, college readiness, and career interests in a systematic manner. Through the Employee Career Initiative at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, BIDMC career coaches have a portfolio of assessment tools they administers onsite to workers interested in skill development and career advancement. Some of the tools include the TABE (Test for Adult Basic Education), ACCUPLACER (placement test for community college enrollment) test, personal interviews and self-assessment worksheets to understand an employee’s interests, skills and values.

Supportive HR Policies 

Effective development of frontline workers requires more than a single program or initiative. It requires organizational policy that makes support for investing in skills and career advancement routine and sustained over time. Examples of supportive HR policies and employee bene ts include tuition assistance, structured onboarding requirements, systematic competency assessment, and full or partial paid release time for education and training. A practice being implemented by many employers, including UnityPoint Health, is the payment of tuition costs in advance. While tuition assistance is often available to health care workers, it is commonly provided in the form of reimbursement, requiring initial out-of-pocket outlays that may be too costly for low-wage employees.

Workforce Planning and Analytics 

Making the business case for supportive workforce practices requires both quantitative and qualitative data as well as the capacity for data collection and analysis in order to support programmatic decision-making and the forecasting of talent development needs. Norton Healthcare in Louisville, KY, has established workforce planning and analytical processes that use data to determine strategic direction. Norton has staff and systems to collect and manage data in order to track programs, assess impacts, and analyze future needs.

Leveraging Resources

Employers that make lasting investments in their frontline workers have mastered the art of leveraging resources from a variety of sources to start, scale, and sustain programs and infrastructure. Co-investment with philanthropy, other employers, unions, community- based organizations and government is the key to transitioning from temporary program-based funding for frontline worker development to more sustained funding of infrastructure supported by an organization’s operational budget.

Secure Seed Funding and Develop Co-Investment Strategies

Often, seed capital provided by public grants and philanthropic investments brings employers and other stakeholders together to create workforce development programs. Outside support has enabled health care workforce investments to become both more intensive, by providing a deeper level of services and career opportunities for incumbent workers, and more extensive, by expanding the pool of employees or community members supported and the range of occupations engaged. In 2004, Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System established its initial frontline workforce initiative, Project REACH (Resources and Education for the Advancement of Careers at Hopkins), with U.S. Department of Labor grant funds. The program was an 18-month incumbent worker acceleration grant designed to develop employees’ skills to fill vacant. Over time, Project REACH has become a part of the organization’s strategic plan, is sustained by 100% institutional support from JHHS, and now includes five workforce development initiatives.

Integrate with Business Operations

Full integration of workforce development into business operations ensures sustainability and signals commitment to providing accessible career advancement opportunities for frontline staff. Education and learning are part of the overall strategic plan for Norton Healthcare in Louisville. Norton uses 100 percent operational dollars to fund the over $9 million spent annually on workforce development initiatives and maintains a learning culture anchored by a career development model that incorporates virtually every best practice mentioned in the CareerSTAT Guide.

Form Industry Partners with Other Employers 

Health care workforce partnerships are dynamic collaborations of regional employers who convene regularly with the assistance of a workforce intermediary to discuss shared human resources issues, exchange labor market information, and take specific actions to address workforce challenges. Baltimore Alliance for Careers in Healthcare (BACH) works with health care providers, educational institutions, and local agencies to prepare residents of Baltimore with the skills and education needed to address the critical shortage of qualified health care workers in the region.
Leverage Partner Expertise and Resources

Employers do not need to develop and maintain expertise in all aspects of workforce development to effectively support their frontline workers. Drawing on the strengths of partner organizations is an effective use of resources and demonstrates collaboration and a desire for collective impact. Boston’s Healthcare Training Institute worked with health care employers clustered in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area—including Boston Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—to develop an effective strategy for creating cohorts of learners across institutions and offering varying levels of English for Speakers of Other Languages classes. With support from the mayor’s office and SkillWorks Boston, HTI opened two community classrooms, giving employees from three area hospitals access to four levels of ESOL classes in a location convenient to the workplace.