ROI of Upskilling Entry-Level Healthcare Employees & Deciding If It’s Right for You

This is the second article in our four part series on attracting entry-level healthcare talent and upskilling employees. Part 1 goes over what entry-level healthcare workers are looking for employees. Part 3 goes over how to set up a healthcare employee upskilling program. Finally, Part 4 goes over how to choose a training program to upskill employees.

Healthcare facilities around the nation are facing staffing shortages and high rates of turnover. While the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated these issues, many organizations continue to struggle with hiring and maintaining staff members. 

Entry-level employees are the most difficult to retain, and health aides and assistants leave their jobs at higher rates than nurses and physicians. 

Upskilling these types of employees is an excellent strategy to improve retention and increase productivity across your entire organization. Many entry-level healthcare workers are hungry for opportunities to improve and are highly motivated to participate in upskilling opportunities. 

Of course, there is a significant cost associated with some upskilling programs. As a healthcare organization, you may wonder if upskilling current employees is worth the cost. 

Let's look at the return on investment (ROI) of upskilling employees to help you decide if it’s right for your organization.

ROI of Upskilling Entry-Level Healthcare Employees

Entry-level employees make up more than 50% of the workforce in healthcare organizations around the United States, and the job outlook for healthcare support roles is expected to increase at a faster rate than most other occupations. 

All of this means that healthcare leaders have to find ways to stand out and attract new employees while working hard to retain their current staff. 

Upskilling is a way to improve retention, improve company culture, improve outcomes, and attract new talent. Here are some benefits of upskilling healthcare employees:

1) Improved Retention

A recent Gallup survey showed that 48% of American workers would leave their current job to work for an employer that offered skills training opportunities. Not only is high turnover bad for team morale, it is incredibly expensive. 

For example, the average cost of turnover for one staff RN is $52,350. Even the most expensive upskilling programs are far cheaper than replacing experienced staff members. 

2) More Positive Workplace Culture

Upskilling staff not only ensures that employees have the skills they need to perform well, it also improves their job satisfaction. 

71% of workers stated that their job satisfaction improved after completing an upskilling program, and 69% even said that their overall quality of life improved due to their training.  

Employees who are happy at work are more productive, better team players, and less likely to leave their jobs. 

3) Improved Patient Outcomes

It seems obvious that more skilled employees will take better care of patients. However, the reason may surprise you. 

Studies consistently show that staff engagement is the number one predictor of patient mortality in hospitals. 

This means that simply providing growth and development opportunities for staff could be even more important than the content or skills that are taught. 

4) Productivity Increases

A study from MIT showed that companies who helped their employees complete a one-year-long upskilling course showed a 250% ROI within 8 months after program completion. This was primarily due to productivity increases. 

While it is easy to assume that productivity increases come only through the acquisition of new hard skills, research from Australia shows that teaching your employees soft skills is incredibly effective as well. 

Businesses flourish economically when staff have strong communication, teamwork, problem-solving, emotional judgment, professional ethics, and global citizenship. 

5) Recruiting New Hires 

As staffing shortages continue to be a problem, job candidates can be more selective about which companies they work for. Offering training and education to curious job seekers may help take your organization from one that struggles to find enough staff, to one that has plenty of new job applicants. 

In 2022, 65% of job seekers stated that they were more likely to apply for a job that offered upskilling opportunities. 

In addition, employees who feel that their organization is invested in their growth and development were 3.7 times more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work.

Deciding Whether Upskilling Your Healthcare Workers Makes Sense

Research makes it clear that upskilling healthcare workers is a good investment. However, companies must think carefully about how to structure their upskilling program. 

Performing a training needs analysis before implementing a program ensures the highest ROI on upskilling company staff.

Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to implement an upskilling program: 

1) Which positions have shortages

When upskilling employees, strategy matters. The first thing to think about is what positions regularly have shortages that could realistically be filled by more entry-level employees.

For example, you can’t upskill a phlebotomist into a surgeon, but you can easily upskill them into a medical assistant.

Look into your state’s education, certification, and license requirements for positions you have shortages for and decide if that role is a good candidate for upskilling.

As another example, let’s say you need to fill a medical assisting position right away, but your state requires certification. You will have to decide whether or not upskilling a current employee for the position makes sense. 

Weigh the cost of hiring temporary help while the current employee finishes their training against hiring a new staff member who is already certified. 

2) Which positions are easy to hire for

If you have an influx of applicants for a specific role, current employees in that position are great candidates for upskilling. 

For example, it may be easier to hire phlebotomists than medical assistants. If that's the case, upskilling your existing phlebotomists to be medical assistants may make sense.

Alternatively, you may be able to upskill employees to take on more responsibilities and eliminate the need for some of the lower-level positions. 

3) If those positions could be filled by upskilling employees

Consider the needs of your organization when choosing to upskill employees. 

An excellent medical administrative assistant can be upskilled to take on the responsibilities of an office manager or new employee trainer. However, the same medical assistant, no matter how talented, cannot be upskilled to an advanced practice provider. 

Since entry-level healthcare workers have the highest rate of turnover, it makes the most sense to use upskilling resources on those employees, helping increase their job satisfaction levels and loyalty to your organization. 

4) How many quality candidates for upskilling there are

Few things are more frustrating than spending a significant amount of time and money upskilling an employee, only to have them quit or be terminated shortly thereafter. 

When you roll out a plan for upskilling your employees, consider treating upskilling courses as a reward for the most productive, hard-working, and positive employees. 

It is vital to get to know your employees and understand their future plans with your organization before offering them expensive or time-consuming upskilling opportunities. 

Workers who consistently show that they are not interested in improving their skill set or doing their best at work are not good candidates for upskilling.  

5) How many of those are interested in upskilling

Beckers Hospital Review shows that although 84% of employees say that they feel that they should participate in an upskilling program, only 60% feel that they have time during the workday to pursue extra training. 

In addition, 35% say that even though they might be interested in upskilling, their family and other priorities are more important to them than learning additional skills for their job. 

Employers must carefully vet workers to determine who is willing to commit the extra time and energy it will take to increase their skill set. 

6) How much it would cost to upskill them

Cost is almost always the number one barrier that companies face when it comes to upskilling employees. Not only does the actual training cost money, but most employees expect to be paid a higher wage after they increase their skill level or earn a certification. 

Some options are more cost-effective than others. Bringing in an outside company for group training is generally cheaper than paying for individualized training programs.

Some upskilling companies are willing to form contracts with healthcare organizations, offering discounts for large groups or working out deals to allow students to participate in externships within your facility. 

Choosing a flexible roll-out plan for upskilling programs is a good way to see what types of programs make the most financial sense for your organization. 

7) How long upskilling would take

Upskilling programs can range from short in-house presentations to years-long training programs. Upskilling programs that last a year or longer may only make sense if you can get some kind of commitment from the upskilled employee or feel confident in their commitment to the organization. 

8) Put it all together

If you’ve gone through the steps above, you should have an idea of what roles are good candidates for upskilling employees into, which existing employees you can potentially upskill, how long it would take, and how much it would cost.

From here, you can decide if implementing an upskilling program makes sense for your healthcare organization. 

If you can considerably reduce staff shortages, save on hiring costs, and keep employees satisfied, check out the next article in this series that goes over how to implement a healthcare employee upskilling program.

Why Tuition Reimbursement Isn’t Enough

The World Economic Forum found that upskilling is essential for organizations to thrive. Their research shows that 54% of employees needed significant upskilling in 2022, and that number will continue to grow. 

With rapid advances in technology and the use of tools like artificial intelligence, the way that entry-level employees perform their work is constantly changing. 

Unlike most degree programs, upskilling can be completed quickly, helping your staff keep up with rapid changes in technology and workflow. 

You can also fit the training into their existing schedules to make the workload of learning a new skill while working a full-time job more manageable. If employees are left to enroll in programs and learn on their own, they may get burnt out working all day then, in most cases, attending classes and studying at night.

Tuition reimbursement programs have more challenges than work-sponsored upskilling programs. Paperwork, submitting grades, and keeping up with full-time school and work can cause unnecessary stress for employees trying to take advantage of these programs. 

Some students even report lower job satisfaction levels after completing their degree, because they feel trapped in their jobs by tuition reimbursement contracts. 

In addition, employers who offer upskilling training programs have more control over which employees to invest in, program timelines, and exactly what skills should be focused on.

Companies that offer tuition reimbursement have less control over who participates in the program, cannot guarantee that candidates choose a high-quality program, and have no control over the length of time it takes to complete training or a degree program.

Healthcare employers should conduct targeted strategies to (1) identify the critical jobs that need to be filled, (2) identify the right talent, (3) choose a training program that has a high yield, (4) enroll employees in the training by paying upfront, and (5) measure success. 

Up Next: How to Upskill Healthcare Employees

Understanding the importance of upskilling healthcare employees is a good place to start. But how exactly do you customize your upskilling program to maximize your organization's ROI? 

Upskilling employees requires more than just signing everyone up to take a course about teamwork or forcing everyone to earn a certification. 

To benefit from upskilling, leadership needs to have a strategy in place that includes assessing skills that are lacking within the organization, and choosing a program that meets the needs of the employees and employer and is not cost-prohibitive. 

The next article in this series goes over how to upskill your employees to maximize your ROI.  

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