Tips to win the IT ‘talent war’

By Mike Miliard
12:20 PM

Begin with a strategy, advises one recruiter

The U.S. labor market may be soft, but health IT is booming, with many hospitals locked in pitched competition to hire skilled technology professionals. One recruiter has laid out a battle plan for finding – and keeping – good employees.

In her presentation, "Winning the Healthcare IT Talent War," Tiffany Crenshaw, president and CEO of Greensboro, N.C.-based Intellect Resources, who spoke at the recent HIMSS Virtual Conference & Expo last month, offered tips on "Winning the Healthcare IT Talent War.”

With meaningful use and ICD-10 and accountable care all adding to the healthcare workload, Crenshaw's core message was that organizations "need to have a good strategy" to recruit and retain good talent. It’s critical to have a plan, she told her audience, because a dearth of talented and motivated employees can have an adverse impact on hospitals' organizational goals – and ultimately slow the nationwide push to digitize healthcare.

"Our candidate pool is very lean right now in health IT," she said. "There is extreme demand for resources."
She said, when it comes to IT professionals with in-demand skill sets the "turnover rate is starting to increase dramatically" at hospitals nationwide.

Moreover, the quality of that scarce talent is improving – which Crenshaw chalked up to a "hangover from the recession," when many skilled workers lost their jobs.

At the same time, "structural issues are starting to come to the forefront" at many healthcare organizations that show that they're badly lacking when it comes to attracting, on-boarding, and keeping these crucially valuable employees.

The Department of Labor projects the need for some 50,000 workers in health IT in the coming years, Crenshaw pointed out. Meeting that need will strain many providers' resources as they try to offer higher salaries and better benefits in an extremely competitive market.

Those that can't attract top talent will suffer: Understaffing will impact their organizational goals, their ability to meet deadlines, their team morale, their ability to retain staff and more.

Crenshaw highlighted what she called a "scary statistic": Without sustained structural improvements in acquisition and on-boarding, she said, turnover could reach 28 percent by 2013.

With a "booming go-live market" and "more emphasis on training than ever before," that's not a recipe for any sort of sustained success. So she laid out a strategy for winning, starting with the need to "size up the enemy."

Every part of your organization should be under the microscope, said Crenshaw. What is your company culture like? Your salary/benefits/relocation package? How aggressively are you recruiting? Have you framed your approach with a strategy and process, or is it haphazard? Do you make use of recruiting technology, to track resumes? Do you laud your employees with awards and recognition? Do you offer professional development opportunities? How is your employees' work/life balance?

It's important to develop well-written job descriptions, and to update them when appropriate, she said. Hiring managers, HR and stakeholders should all be on the same page. Once an offer is made, it's important to "reach out" and keep the lines of communication open between the initial offer and the starting day.

Once that day comes, it's important to "roll out the red carpet," and keep these new employees busy with challenging work – any downtime in the early going will cause many skilled workers to start having second thoughts, said Crenshaw.

"Structure and follow-through" – when it comes to on-boarding, orientation, review and beyond – are key, she said.

As one example of original thinking with regard to the hiring process, Crenshaw pointed to Baton Rouge, La.-based Ochsner Health Systems, which earlier this year launched Big Break, a one-day "American Idol type event" – complete with a "big marketing splash" – where scores of applicants "auditioned" for IT jobs.

That's the sort of bold approach to staffing that will be necessary in the crucial coming years, said Crenshaw: "It's time for you to get very serious about your recruiting, your retention and your on-boarding."