Developing Talent with Tangible Returns

If your organization is anything like mine, you too are adding additional IT staff to deal with the increased activity driven by such legislative drivers as HITECH. Even with today’s economic downturn, with organizations (both vendor and hospital) vying for similar resources, I have definitely started to experience increased difficulty attracting advanced resources. Having anticipated this trend, we have been grooming and succession planning internal staff. This allowed us to focus on hiring entry level staff to fill positions vacated as junior staff moved into more senior positions whenever possible.

The challenge though, for not just the hospital but most of the companies on the island, has been finding entry level staff with both the skills and business understanding to fill the multitude of openings. Our experience showed that recent graduates had either skill sets unaligned to the open positions (e.g. web developer when the companies are looking for PC technicians) or did not understand the technology, business environment, or IT environments they were applying for.

The answer to this problem came a couple of years earlier as two of the island’s CIOs brainstormed various solutions. They then worked with government to create a self-funded, pseudo-apprenticeship program called the Bermuda Technology Leadership Forum (TLF). This program was designed so that local college-level students or recent graduates could be placed in working situations during their summer breaks for the various industries on island, and actually round out their educational gaps and business skills to make them more viable candidates for the companies needing young talent. At the same time, the program would help those still in school focus their major in areas of IT where there were business needs, so their chances of getting hired were increased. Often the program actually educated the student on IT positions they did not even know existed.

In a very basic sense, the program works like this. First, of companies wishing to support the program, they had to buy in with one of three membership levels costing either $2,500, $5,000, or $10,000 annually. These levels define whether the supporting companies can sponsor a student, have voting rights on issues, and hold a board seat. The money raised pays for student events, training material, and other training/meeting related costs. Some sponsors only provide training rooms or meeting locations. Others agree to sponsor a student for three months during the summer at a fixed “student”-based hourly rate, somewhat hirer than minimum wage.

The students must apply and interview for the available hosted positions. Once in the program, the students attend training sessions hosted by volunteers which are supplied by staff from member companies, CIOs, and other experts willing to volunteer their time. Classes range from softer personal development skills — like public speaking, presentations, resume writing, and interviewing — to more technical classes expanding their knowledge of network infrastructure, server management, SAN support, IT governance, business finance basics, and a host of others. The students must study on their own time and pass weekly tests on the topics covered during their instruction.

Also the students have group projects to give them added experience in real world situations and business needs. Along with this, the students must attend social events with local CIOs and business people where they learn to mingle, network, and conduct themselves properly at an informal business event.

Finally the students are given tours by the host companies who discuss the various IT positions in their industries. In past tours, the students are always amazed at the number of IT-centric positions hospitals have which they knew nothing about or even knew existed. Some of these include PACS administration, specialized application support like RIS or LIS, clinical informatics, robotics, document management, interface programming, clinical engineering (biomed), and others. These unique and interesting positions are demonstrated in greater depth to them during the summer intern work programs, where they may be supporting a project or user; fielding PCs, manning a help desk, and performing other work.

The benefit for the sponsoring companies has been huge. We get to “try before we buy,” have access to better rounded candidates, and a pool of candidates that have greater knowledge than what is just taught in college or technical schools. The candidates benefit from networking and meeting CIOs and managers with whom they can form business relationships, gain mentoring, and ultimately be more competitive entering the job market. An immediate benefit to our organization and the students has been that we succeeded in landing two of the four students we made an offer to; out of the last 24 candidates. We also are staying in touch with two others due to graduate next year, as they may be potential future candidates for us.

In my opinion, this is a low cost, low risk, high benefit program that hospitals can use by partnering with each other or other businesses to develop new entry level staff. Perhaps by jointly developing and training programs and sharing resource, such a program can grow to develop specialty technicians for hard-to-fill healthcare positions like project managers, clinical informatics professionals, and other healthcare centric roles. For rural hospitals, which may have a very small pool of talent to pull from, the TLF model can work to get higher skilled entry level resources through the door who are ready to hit the ground running, while reducing some of the unknown employment risks that can be costly for small organizations.

While a TLF like program may not be the “be all, end all” of reducing on-boarding risk and identifying talent, in Bermuda it has been very successful for both the hospitals and private companies involved.

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