Monday, July 30, 2012

Talent Shortage in Healthcare IT: Three real-world solutions to solving the problem.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

How do you find and retain top HIT talent?
There are countless stories about the current HIT skills shortage crisis, not only in informatics, but in other specialized areas of IT as well. I’ve written a few of them myself.

We’ve seen informatics baccalaureate programs pop up to help meet the expected demand. There’s only one problem: How will the healthcare industry get 50,000 new workers through a four-year program, in a partial-handful of schools, in the next two years, to address the incentivized program needs of HCOs in time for meaningful use, ICD-10, and HITECH?

The short answer is that they won’t. Besides, HCOs want experienced technical clinicians, not grads they have to train on their systems, their culture, and at their expense.

Many resourcing professionals and healthcare industry experts talk about what HCOs need to do to recruit, hire and retain top talent. My company is not immune to engaging in such activity.

I think we all know there is a fight for the top talent in HIT. I think we’re all aware of what we need to do to get the best of the best: Higher pay than the competition, an engaging work environment, a culture where life/work balance is actually balanced, great benefits, continuing education, and interesting projects. My staff and I are in the trenches every day fighting the battle. I am likely not telling any CMIOs or private practices anything they don’t already know; at least the ones who are actively involved in getting ready for the changes.

Here’s what I don’t understand: No one is taking steps to address the shortage; not the HCOs, not the doctors, not the technical resourcing industry. The only solution I’ve seen is to grant more H1B Visas.
Here are three ways I think we can address the shortage quickly and domestically (or at least more quickly than waiting for those four-year grads to come and save us.)

  1. Train experienced HIT professionals in clinical skills and terms they need to know now. That’s right I brought up the ‘T’ word. Just as C# developers are a good fit for mobile apps work, there are plenty of hard working, talented HIT professionals out there right now that can do 90% of what any HCO might need them to do from a technical standpoint. They have not gone to medical school. They know the language of healthcare IT already. They need clinical training. Community colleges offer training in nursing and other specialized healthcare fields.

    How about a curriculum to help get this crowd to a comfort level your HCO is comfortable with? Which person would you rather have running your critical projects; a four-year graduate or a seasoned manager with the added clinical knowledge? This idea brings me to my next point.

  2. HCOs need to partner with educators to develop curricula. Plain and simple; educators will never know what HCOs want employees to know unless HCOs tell them. Colleges can guess using job descriptions and industry trends. Unless HCOs provide educators with exact specifications they want IT staff to know, they’re still likely going to see candidates that can give them only 95% of what they want and need. My recommendation is for HCOs to reach out to local colleges to see if they might be of assistance in developing an informatics curriculum for experienced professionals.

  3. Treat the entire HIT staff currently employed with respect and offer incentives to stay. I know as a staffing professional this one makes my job harder if the first two solutions fall on deaf ears. If you treat your employees and contingent workforce as if they are gold rather than hired hands who you’ll lose to attrition, assimilate them into the culture of your HCO, and make them a true part of the healthcare process; you will find that not only do they want to stay, they’ll want to help improve the organization. Training, top benefits, challenging projects and work/life balance for your entire HIT staff, not just top recruits, will pay great dividends down the road.

In times like these, it’s hard to turn around without another story popping up about a skills shortage in any industry, let alone the highly specialized HIT and informatics realm. It’s even harder to find someone willing to offer up solutions.

These are mine.

I’d love to hear your ideas and solutions.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Facebook vs. LinkedIn: An Unfair Fight for Jobseekers or a Lesson in History?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

Is there a fight for candidates in the making?
I ran across a recruiting piece in Forbes last week that discussed the swirling rumors and challenges surrounding Facebook’s entry into professional networking to take on LinkedIn. LinkedIn already has the data, the tools, the recruiter functionality, and the reputation for being professional. Facebook is known as a ‘fun,’ almost completely personal, social media platform. Most in the recruiting field would call this an unfair fight.

Me? I am starting to experience déjà vu.

I seem to recall the days of yore: When a young, eccentric genius (and a Harvard dropout) was consistently told his work will never amount to anything. Microsoft will never be big because people won’t want PC’s.  Microsoft is not a threat because it’s only used in offices. Microsoft can never succeed in the gaming world because they are a ‘stodgy, uncool company.’ We all know where these predictions went.

I am willing to concede that it is a stretch to compare William Gates, III to Facebook’s Zuckerberg, but not too much of a stretch. That’s why, if the rumors are true, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt to see how things play out in the later rounds.

Here’s why:

1. There is huge power in numbers and influencers.   With 8x’s the users, Facebook’s launching point will be far ahead of any other company trying to take on LinkedIn. If it weren’t for the sheer numbers, I would be skeptical. Many argue that it’s not the same. Facebook isn’t the same audience. As stated before Facebook is for ‘fun.’ Need I remind you of the X-Box? How many LinkedIn users also use Facebook? Facebook can unseat LinkedIn.  With 8X the user base, it doesn’t take many people to join in the professional side and match the professional powerhouse immediately. 

2. Yes, people want to play in a play space and work in a workspace…wait…what? No. People play at work now. Offices have ping pong tables and masseuses.  People hop jobs like the Easter Bunny, and it’s become the norm.  Integrating your personal and professional lives into ONE brand of confidence, where the tool that the brand provides enables you to quickly and easily keep the two separate may be Facebook’s saving move. 

3. Integration provides a bigger punch than an app. Much is discussed about the advantages LinkedIn has over the various Facebook job apps. If the professional networking is integrated and not an application; we’ve got ourselves a whole new fight. What if Facebook is successful in producing a professional network AND a personal network?  A different purpose for both. With whatever crossover people WANT to have.  Right now it’s impossible: It’s LinkedIn OR Facebook. Personal OR business. (Too many words in CAPS? I’m rolling…) What if Zuckerberg has already begun to take on the question of ‘why?’ and said ‘why not?’

4. Geniuses have a way of always bouncing back. I’ve already mentioned Bill Gates and Microsoft. What about what Zuckerberg has already faced?: A division in the upper ranks, pushback to the timeline, email, other changes, and a shaky IPO. Last time I checked, Facebook is still the world’s largest social media platform and still in business. Yes, people are leaving but people are joining everyday too.

It’s kind of funny that I feel the way I do since I, and other colleagues, actually think Facebook may very well fade out, but integrating professional networking into Facebook might be exactly what saves it.

A fight is never over until the ref calls it or the final bell sounds and we’re only in the locker room warming up.

Monday, July 16, 2012

WARNING: The search for IT candidate perfection is dangerous to your bottom line.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

Training is the key to landing 'A+' candidates.
This is another one of those cases when a much talked about political issue takes my mind in a different direction on a subject. Politics aside, a great number of stories are flooding the blog scene about the skills crisis in IT and how many are suggesting that the only solution is to issue more H1B visas.

Venom flies as people debate whether or not there is in fact a need, or, if there is simply a need for cheap skilled labor. People go back and forth about how culture differences cause inefficiencies within IT organizations. It gets so bad, that I think the real issue gets missed.

There is a skills shortage…when you’re looking for the perfect candidate, every time, and at the lowest possible cost.

As an IT resources professional, I see it every day.

Taiichi Ohno, often given credit for being the father of lean manufacturing via his Toyota Production System, used ‘the pursuit of perfection’ as one of the foundations of his system. However, Ohno knew that perfection was impossible to obtain, and the goal itself is not obtain perfection but to always move closer. I am simplifying his brilliance by paraphrasing, but you get the point: You will never find the perfect candidate, and you should look for the best-fit for your organization. If you’re always looking to hire the perfect candidate, you will miss out on some amazing people who are near perfect.

The ‘Great Recession’ brought about a philosophy in the business community that you would always be able to get the best candidates, who can and will do more, for less money. It was a nice luxury for business for a couple of years.

Unfortunately, many employers are holding on to this philosophy, not just in IT but across the employment spectrum. I’ve seen candidates with 95% (or an ‘A’ grade candidate) of the skills required to do the job rejected because they were missing a software upgrade from version ‘9.0.1’ to ‘9.1.8.’ This type of thinking and searching for the perfect candidate causes delays in filling positions and leads to needless losses in productivity for the company.

In our business, you have to move quickly to secure the best-fit candidates. If you don’t, they will be made an offer by another company, possibly your competitor, while you're deciding whether or not they fit the definition of a perfect candidate.

With a little bit of training, our ‘A’ candidate could have become an ‘A+’ employee; working and doing 95% of what was needed while learning the new skill, whether self taught or company funded.

It’s good to strive for perfection. Without doing so you will never inspire innovation.

It’s even better to know you will never attain it.       

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Finding the best technical employees: It’s less about who and more about training.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

I was recently reading an article about informatics Baccalaureate programs that are emerging to help meet current and future demands of HCO’s and insurers with highly specific IT program needs. The story sparked a different, yet simple, idea to solving the problem of IT skill shortages in my mind.

How is your company dealing with the IT skills shortage?
My company works in both the engineering and technical sectors. The demand for engineers is high as baby boomers begin to retire and due to the fact that many members of the gen X, Millennial and Z workforce opted for careers in information technology as it was seen as a more lucrative path to follow.

The same can be said for certain sectors of IT today. Healthcare IT and mobile app developers have a unique shortage of skilled professionals on their hands because technologies are literally emerging every day.

We have very competent, very talented system admins, QA professionals, and programmers out in the job market and we still have industries telling us, as a staffing firm, that there is a shortage of available, qualified IT talent. They’re right; a shortage exists and they may be partly to blame.

Just as with engineering, the IT sector has a number of quality candidates in the marketplace actively seeking work, whether it’s for contract or long term positions. Yet there are still many capable, sometimes brilliant IT minds that go unemployed, underemployed or under-engaged in their work because they do not meet a niche skill set on a sheet of paper.

Obviously these professionals have an aptitude for learning new systems. After all, they are professionals in an industry where change is the norm.

So what’s the answer?

It’s simple: Training.

Many businesses have the mindset that IT pros should get the training on their own because they’ll probably jump ship before any sort of ROI is realized. I think the opposite is true; offer the training and you’ll retain your talent. Also, without input from business, how is an IT pro supposed to know what type of specialized training to invest in, if the specialized training even exists?

We have to get business, professionals, colleges and K-12 systems together to come up with a plan to develop our future workforce.  In the meantime, business can do a lot to help itself to a bumper crop of IT professionals if they put some resources toward training on new skill sets.

For example, we’re in the midst of developing a program plan to bring businesses together with trainers and mainstream programming professionals. Businesses tell us they need mobile app professionals now because mobile device use and available apps are increasing at an exponential rate. They also tell us there is a very distinct skill shortage. Training companies need customers. The programmers, with years of demonstrated success in platforms closely related to mobile app development (Java, C++, etc), get to learn a new, in-demand skill set to which they can apply their years of experience in the logic of programming.

A college grad can be great. But nothing can replace those years of experience backing the seasoned IT pros.

If you or your company seem to be wondering how you're going to deal with the skills shortage, the answer might be as simple as providing IT training.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The ‘only’ HIT story this week: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act upheld by Supreme Court

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

Last Thursday, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ACA, (commonly referred to as Obamacare by politicos) was upheld by the US Supreme Court. I choose to remain politically agnostic when it comes to major news stories, especially in an election year. So if you’re looking for a one-sided slant on the topic, this blog is likely not for you this week. I am more concerned about the ramifications of the data generated by 30-60 million people who will be added to EMR and EHR systems.

How will you explain privacy laws to new patients?
The high court’s decision, in my mind at least, brings about two major causes for concern regarding new patients, their data, and their familiarity with technology that need to be addressed sooner than later:

  1. There will be about 30-60 million newly insured with little knowledge of data exchange policies. Many of the newly insured will likely have been out of the healthcare system for some time. The technology employed and privacy regulations introduced by HCO’s, employers and insurers have grown exponentially over the past two to five years. How are these newly ensured going to react when asked to sign a mountain of paperwork to allow doctors and other professionals share their data? Will they sign? Will they say, ‘You’re my doctor. No one else needs to know anything about me.’?

  2. Very few providers and insurers have a plan in place to explain privacy rules and new technologies to these patients. How will HCO’s, insurers, private practices, and others prepare and deal with this influx of new patients, carrying with them a mountain of questions? As those on the healthcare side, do you have plans in place to deal with these sorts of questions? Do you have pamphlets, guides, people, etc to help you explain the ‘new era’ of healthcare coverage to those who have been out of the loop for a while? Heck, HIPAA and HITECH read like the terms and conditions on a website. How are you going to explain this to people who have not likely been exposed to this type of information?

Am I overreacting?

Are these two ideas even causes for concern?

I think it is time for HCO’s, practitioners, insurers and private providers to at least start thinking about plans to deal with these issues if they do not already have one in place. After all, January 1st, 2014 isn’t that far off.