Skill-Building: A New Paradigm for Educating the Health Care Workforce

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Skill-building is transforming nearly every aspect of human capital management: Educating global workforces, empowering talent to grow in new directions, crafting job descriptions that go beyond a degree and directly aligning professionals’ distinctive abilities with enterprise strategies. A Deloitte Insights report emphasizes this shift, noting that when you hire for a skill set as opposed to tasks or a list of requirements, you invest in building a workforce “to meet the demand of agility, agency and equity.”

A key aspect of this revolution is a re-engineered definition of “skills”. We’re all familiar with reskilling – training an employee for a different job – and upskilling – building upon existing competencies. The modern conception encompasses the whole individual rather than being defined by proficiencies in, say, data analysis or web development. This includes not just technical expertise but also motivations, passions and domain-specific knowledge – essentially any ability that contributes to the success of both talent and the organization. Deloitte highlights that this type of effort “lets people’s uniqueness as humans shine through, with work tailored to their strengths.” 

Why make the change?

“There simply aren’t enough people to fill all the open positions. There is a real fight for talent and we have to build competency in employees just to keep up in the business,” noted a vice president of learning and development at a clinical research organization in one Gallup report. Nearly 50% of American workers would switch to a new job if offered skills training opportunities.

What may sound like a simple turn of phrase is actually a response to the harsh realities facing organizations large and small: A talent shortage remains from the “big quit”, the real and documented costs of hiring and retaining talent. Deloitte statistics confirm the struggle: Nearly 73% of executives expect the talent shortage to continue for three years.

How does this translate into action?

While anyone can describe their operation as “skills-based”, successful organizations reimagine their workforce by not only investing in continuous learning, but also assessing a candidate’s willingness and capability to acquire new skills and adapt to changing environments. These approaches yield high returns for both the individual and the organization.

Academy to Innovate HR, a human resources training organization in the Netherlands, outlines additional practical shifts to make the transition. One approach is to reassemble the job description to reflect the actual jobs to be done by specifying the tasks and allowing leaders to utilize existing talent as new needs arise.

“We used to hire scientists for sales roles, but we found that it’s easier to teach the science to someone with communication skills as opposed to teaching communication skills to a scientist,” noted a vice president of commercial sales in the pharmaceutical industry.
Identifying material to fulfill the educational needs can be challenging, particularly with limited resources. Many leaders struggle to create internal resources due to a lack of bandwidth. A director of account management at a multinational pharmaceutical company attempted to utilize internal subject matter experts to develop training, but had challenges keeping the content current.

Fortunately, learning options in today’s corporate environment come in a variety of formats. Virtual courses, micro-learning, webinars, coaching, videos, blogs and podcasts are all taking center stage to ensure that learning meets individual needs in formats tailored to specific learning requirements. 

With so many options, it’s critical to consider talent’s preferred learning methods; the Society for Human Resources Management reports: “Online/self-paced courses are most popular with employees (cited by 70% of respondents), followed by online/instructor-led training (63%), in-person learning with an instructor (63%) and hybrid educational offerings (62%).”

At Harvard Medical School, our corporate learning team focuses on creating resources designed to engage learners at all levels within organizations. A soon-to-be-released program, HealthXcelerate: An Insider’s Guide to Health Care, is designed for professionals who lack a background in health care and whose position requires a holistic view of the industry. Arriving in 2024, this asynchronous course will outline the foundational building blocks of the US health care system, giving employees the skills that they need to approach their role equipped with both the necessary knowledge and confidence.

A Win-Win for the Talent & the Organization

No matter the nomenclature, skill-building, up-skilling and re-skilling provide immense value to both the talent and the organizations. The Society for Human Resource Management reports that eighty-four percent of companies report that creating a continuous learning culture “enhances organizational resilience”.  A Forbes 2023 report noted that upskilling employees gives corporations a competitive edge in a strong labor market. It also shows that employers are investing in long-term goals and ways to be more attractive choices for job seekers.

While the approaches outlined here present no small challenges, success in making these transitions have substantial value for talent by providing choice and autonomy necessary for growth in their professional journeys and agility organizations require to rise to innovate to meet market demands.

The Corporate Learning team at HMS (Harvard Medical School) is invested in creating solutions for the corporate learning community. Learn more about HealthXcelerate: An Insider’s Guide to Health Care and other learning opportunities.