Reimagining talent mobility programs in healthcare

Healthcare companies are no strangers to investing in their employees’ education. But as the competition for talent increases and organizations struggle to accelerate and scale their talent development programs, a more measurable and strategic approach needs to be adopted to maximize the impact of their investments. The traditional ways of doing things will not cut it if the healthcare and life sciences industry truly wants a more robust, flexible, and diverse workforce. This means shifting away from tuition reimbursement models and degree requirements for non-clinical roles and helping entry-level workers envision career paths early on in their journeys.


The underlying inequity of tuition reimbursement

While tuition reimbursement is a common benefit, it is also unintentionally discriminatory given employees must first pay out of pocket the cost of tuition, fees, and books. Though employers reimburse them later — usually only partially — this arrangement shuts out workers who are not high-earners, are not able to take on more debt, or do not have savings on hand. Even before the pandemic, the Federal Reserve reported in May 2019 that 40% of American workers did not have $400 in savings to pay for an unexpected expense, much less pay for tuition. This all leads to lower adoption and completion rates of education programs from underserved populations that typically make up more than a majority of entry-level roles. 

With tuition assistance or debt-free programs, however, more employees are able to participate because they do not have to front the cost of their education. A leading financial services company switched to direct-pay and debt-free education options for its associates, and in turn saw enrollment mix shift, from mostly corporate employees seeking MBAs to a more representative mix of both corporate and frontline workers leveraging the benefit across racial and demographic lines. 

Tuition assistance improves retention and promotion rates as well. According to its chairman and CEO, Brian Niccol, Chipotle’s retention rate was 3.5 times higher among employees enrolled in its educational assistance program, and employees who participated were also “7.5 times more likely to move into a management role within the organization.”


Emphasizing skills, not just degrees for non-clinical roles

Employers also need to shift from a traditional degree-based hiring approach and focus more on a skills-based method, particularly when hiring talent in non-clinical roles. Tech companies, like IBM, Apple, and Google removed degree requirements from their jobs, and health companies can do the same to attract talent to support digital transformation efforts, including IT, data science, and cybersecurity. 

Inserting a minimum degree requirement in a job description is needlessly restrictive and discriminatory. Once a bachelor’s degree is required, for example, over 75% of Black people and 80% of Latinx candidates are immediately ruled out from the hiring pool, according to analysis from The Education Trust.

Instead of degrees, listing competencies or skills allows for a wider, more diverse range of applicants. It also ensures that those who have the best qualifications specific to the role, not just a formal academic record, will be considered. This approach is already gaining steam. The CEOs of 37 major companies, including 10 in the healthcare and life sciences space, have joined the OneTen,a coalition to “upskill, hire, and promote one million Black Americans over the next 10 years into family-sustaining jobs with opportunities for advancement.”

By pledging to this effort and moving away from traditional educational requirements, signatories not only further their equity and DE&I measures, but will also have a robust and skilled workforce that will remain competitive in their respective industries.


Mapping out multi-step pathways early on

In the past decade, developing new talent pipelines in healthcare has been a major challenge for the industry, and helping workers path their careers early on will benefit both the employee and the employer. By having a clear line of sight to upward mobility, employees will be empowered, engaged, and motivated. Meanwhile, employers will be able to lay out a more strategic and intentional recruiting and talent acquisition pipeline that will make gains across retention, promotion, and DE&I efforts.

According to a 2016 report by The Advisory Board Company (acquired by Optum), the two main challenges that companies run into when supporting entry-level healthcare pathways are a small talent pool and a high turnover rate within entry-level roles. Employers should “embed opportunities for growth in entry-level roles,” which includes identifying key roles that are or will be in high demand and preparing current workers to fill those positions either through upskilling or reskilling.

Healthcare provider organizations need to look to their non-clinical frontline employees, like environmental services and food services, and articulate clear pathways from low-wage, entry level roles into living wage careers. Health insurers and retail organizations are looking to upskill their frontline workers into pharmacy technician roles to meet COVID-19 demands placed on the system. Once in a pharm tech role, over time employees can further upskill into pharmacist or nursing roles, or reskill into supply chain roles that are typically difficult to fill.  Life sciences organizations need to prioritize their frontline manufacturing talent, upskilling them to fill sales positions that set them on the career path to management.  

Walmart’s Live Better U education program (LBU), for instance, has helped thousands of entry-level workers gain the skills and experience to progress into higher paying, career-oriented roles. One such student is Gina Meyer, who had an early interest in helping people, medicine, and the human body throughout her life. Meyer enrolled at Penn Foster through LBU and recently graduated as a pharmacy technician. “It was a big deal that I passed,” said Meyer about finishing her certification. “I’m going to walk in the door making more money than I make right now because I have a certification and title under my belt.”

For more information about the intersection of healthcare and Guild, please reach out to:

Marty Reid, [email protected]
Ellen Gartner-Phillips, [email protected]
Hanna Patterson, [email protected]

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