Focus, Health Care, and Human Resources

Deepening the talent pool

Mercy Health builds bridges with educational and workforce partners.

April 3, 2015
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Mercy Health talent pool
Bill Manns, president of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, says health care jobs are changing and the workforce will have to keep pace with those changes. Courtesy Mercy Health

Representatives from academic institutions and workforce agencies met employees of Mercy Health halfway during a recent conference.

Mercy Health hosted the inaugural Building Talent Bridges: Education to Employment conference on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus. The event invited representatives from educational institutions and workforce solutions agencies to participate in exploring solutions that address the widening talent gap in the health care industry.

The agenda included opening remarks from Mercy Health leadership, presentations on three core topics, and breakout sessions for attendees to participate in table discussions leveraging a range of professional experience and expertise.

The three discussion sessions focused on a data analysis of Mercy Health, competency data and assessment criteria, and career navigation and diversity.

Greg Loomis, president of Mercy Health Muskegon, said as the health industry shifts from a payment-for-volume business model to payment for value, the talent needed will change.

“Health care is going through tremendous change right now, and the talent needed in the future is different than the talent needed in the past, and so transforming is a key phrase for us today,” said Loomis in his opening remarks at the conference.

Conference participants included the Grand Rapids Urban League, Michigan Works!, University of Detroit-Mercy, GVSU, Muskegon Intermediate School District, Muskegon Community College, Grand Rapids Community College, Goodwill Industries, Baker College, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology.

With a vision of creating a continuous pipeline of diverse, highly qualified health care talent with the core competencies employers require, the event explored ways to better communicate, identify and define talent supply and demand in a changing health care landscape.

Bill Manns, president of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, said the reality is health care jobs are changing, and it is important to have a workforce reflective of the diverse community it serves.

“There are a lot of IT jobs, APP, or advanced practice practitioners … and this notion of ‘Big Data’ and what that means in health care. How do we prepare diverse people to analyze that data?” said Manns. “I think that requires a strong partnership.”

Shana Welch, regional director of talent acquisition for Mercy Health, said the organization has done a lot of work around job analysis and evaluation to identify the core competencies needed. The next step was to bring all the educational partners together to start bridging the gap between education and employment.

“It’s significant to make sure we are partnering with our educational partners to make sure we are sending the right signals around what is quality talent, what is high talent, what are the competencies we need now, and what are the competencies we are going to need in the future,” said Welch. “Every person coming out of an educational program should have a smooth transition into employment.”

Thomas Karel, who works in organization and talent effectiveness for Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, said the driving need to convene the educational and workforce partners is due to the growing gap between supply and demand for health care workers.

“We really, as employers, have not stepped up strongly enough to communicate with our educational partners and other organizations that are part of the talent supply chain to define for them what are the skills and competencies we really need,” said Karel. “We, as a health care organization, are finding that we have to spend additional time and money with our graduates to fill in the gaps with additional learning.”

In the Mercy Health West Michigan area, there are roughly 1,000 new hires each year in addition to nearly 1,000 internal transfers. The health care system has an annual turnover rate of roughly 10.7 percent, and a first-year turnover rate of almost double that, according to Sam Tower, director of human resources of Mercy Health in Grand Rapids.

The regional turnover rate from March 2014 to February 2015 for environmental services positions was 18 percent on an annual basis, and approximately 31 percent for the first year turnover rate. For registered nurses, the first year turnover rate is 14 percent, while the annual turnover rate is only 7 percent.

“The metric is really important to us because it takes just as much energy, effort and resources to hire somebody if they terminate three months from now than somebody who terminates 30 years from now,” said Tower. “From a financial perspective, from an operational perspective, you can see this is a problem.”

With a wide variety of staffing needs ranging from human resources and finance to marketing and clinical, Tower said the organization is infinitely complex and needs its community partners to help ensure there is an adequate supply of great talent.

“It is not just getting our jobs filled. It has to be the right people, the right skills, the right competencies and the right interpersonal skills,” said Tower. “We need to have the right people fill those roles — not just for nurses, but throughout the organization.”

Addressing the gap in talent supply and demand not only impacts the community in terms of quality health care, but also in terms of ensuring students are learning skills aligning with the needs of the future, according to Karel.

“We owe this to the students. They are paying money to go to school and learn skills and competencies making them employable, and we need to make sure the right number are coming out of the right programs,” said Karel. “We know what we need five years out and we, as employers, also need to get better at predicting what we need because many of these programs are three to five years. This is where the rubber meets the road.”

As an issue impacting the whole community, Karel said it is important to open channels of communication among the educational and workforce development systems and to transparently share information with other organizations in the health industry.

“While we are doing this as Mercy Health, we keep in mind this affects the whole community, and we are willing to abundantly share what we are doing with Spectrum, with Metro, with long-term care and home care,” said Karel.

At the end of the conference, the hope was to find individuals who are interested in developing and joining task teams to continue bridging the education and employment gap. The human resource team planned on gathering all input from attendees; a diversity community project, led by Steve Bennett of MiCCP, will be held April 17.

“We want to walk away with individuals who are ready to go into potential subgroups within the educational system and training system to really start looking at their program entry, the competencies they are teaching in their curriculums: Do they align with the jobs and qualifications for Mercy Health, and how do we continue to partner together to make sure we have a diverse work pool?” said Welch.

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