Career Pathways Help Workers Become Nurses

By Nicole Lewis January 30, 2023
Career Pathways Help Workers Become Nurses

​The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in health care occupations will grow by 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, adding 2.6 million new jobs.

Meanwhile, HR executives in health care are coping with the reality that almost 42 percent of the current nursing workforce is at or near retirement, and by 2025, there will be a shortage of 2.1 million nurses.

A report from The Josh Bersin Company examines how different approaches to career pathways can provide solutions to the nursing shortage.

The report, The Future of Careers in Healthcare: Building Tomorrow's Workforce Today, relied on conversations with 20 CHROs at large health care organizations. Additionally, research from The Josh Bersin Company's Global Workforce Intelligence Project and Eightfold.AI's talent intelligence platform created a clearer picture of labor shortage trends, gaps in workforce skills and other shifts occurring in the nursing industry.

The report notes that the health care sector is the largest employment sector in the U.S. with 20 million employees.

The findings note that there won't be enough qualified nurses from community colleges, vocational institutions and four-year nursing schools to fill the vacant positions that are growing each year.

The pandemic put added stress on nurses, with 91 percent feeling stressed, 83 percent experiencing anxiety, and 81 percent suffering from exhaustion or burnout, according to a study from the Service Employees International Union.

"Human resource executives in the health care sector know this is an issue, but they don't know how big their issue is going to be," said Kathi Enderes, senior vice president, research, and lead health care industry analyst at The Josh Bersin Company. 

Finding New Nurses 

Health care employers can identify people in nonclinical jobs who are likely to lose employment through automation, Enderes said, and set them on career pathways that help them transition into a sustainable job such as nursing. They can be trained to be a nurse's aide, a licensed vocational nurse, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse.

Some health care organizations have already begun transitioning lower-level workers into nursing careers.

"We are actually already working on this," said Betty Jo Rocchio, senior vice president, system chief nursing officer at Mercy, one of the 25 largest health systems in the U.S. The system has 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 4,000 Mercy Clinic physicians and advanced practitioners, and more than 40,000 co-workers serving patients and families across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Rocchio said during the past 18 months, Mercy has embarked on a program that has added 250 LPNs and 1,500 unlicensed assisted personnel, or nurse's aides, into its workforce.

"As we continue to add more, we are also watching our retention numbers go up," Rocchio said. "We have to give the highest quality care and doing so is going to require us to think outside of the box. One of the ways that we are going to support our nursing personnel is by using our skill mix differently, so our unlicensed personnel as well as our licensed practical nurses are going to have to be in that mix to take care of even the most complex patients."

For Rocchio, thinking outside of the box means creating an approach to career pathways at Mercy that gives workers outside the nursing profession the chance to pursue a nursing career.

"They may start in our cafeteria or they may be a transporter, but if they have the desire, the ability and the aptitude, Mercy wants to make sure that we are advancing their career in the way that they want it to advance and support them while they do it," Rocchio said. 

The report explains that unlike career paths, where people move within a cluster of jobs using their existing skills, career pathways help workers break out of their current low-level positions and enables organizations to tap into diverse talent pools, such as front-line workers and underserved populations.

Rocchio said her organization is also forging ahead with another recommendation from the report: offering no-cost tuition to help workers gain the education they need, such as supporting unlicensed personnel who are going back to school to become nurses.

"We are actually paying for some of their clinicals and their credit hours so they can still earn a living and support their families while they're going to school to become licensed practical nurses or registered nurses. In return, they are giving us back years of service," Rocchio said.

The report notes that no-cost retraining opportunities are vital to training new nurses. Although 61 percent of health care organizations offer tuition reimbursement, only 11 percent see this widely used by employees and only 8 percent say most of their employees are aware of these programs. 

The report highlights Amazon's partnership with Providence Health & Services as a successful career pathway program that holds valuable lessons for health care organizations and their HR executives.

The program is designed to transition Amazon distribution center workers into nurse aides or licensed nurse practitioners who are then placed in jobs at Providence Health & Services, a nonprofit Catholic health care system headquartered in Renton, Wash., that operates multiple hospitals across seven states.

The initiative is tied to Amazon's educational assistance program, Career Choice, based on a no-cost-to-employee education model, and even though Amazon is paying to train workers who will no longer work for them, there are many benefits to the program.

"Amazon doesn't have to lay off these employees, which is costly and brings reputational damage," Enderes said.

These workers will have higher-paying jobs, they'll be loyal to Amazon, and when they have more money, they're likely to spend it buying products from Amazon, she added.

The HR team at Providence Health & Services benefits too. For a start, they won't have to scout for new hires on LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor or at other employment websites.

"People are automatically placed in jobs, and HR executives are not going to spend their resources on internally interviewing people," Enderes said.

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami. 



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