December 10, 2019

The Silver Tsunami is rolling in. How is your healthcare organization preparing?

Baby boomers in the healthcare sector are retiring in large cohorts. If organizations don’t refocus their efforts on retaining their expertise, the skills gap will only widen. How will younger generations of talent handle increasing demand as the aging workforce retires?

Demand for healthcare is steadily growing, largely due to the aging population and the growing number of Americans living with illness and disability. As a result, more care providers and resources will be required to meet their needs, putting strain on the current system. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics claims that the healthcare sector is projected to grow 14% from 2018 to 2028 – a much faster pace than other industries – adding about 1.9 million new jobs.

The healthcare workforce itself is experiencing a transformative demographic shift: Baby boomers are retiring in large waves. In fact, CNBC claims that 10,000 baby boomers retire every day in the U.S. The reality for employers is that retirees are taking decades of accumulated skill and knowledge with them during this mass departure, also referred to as the “Silver Tsunami” and the age wave, among others.

This loss of experience and knowledge has not received the attention it requires. Organizations have been focused on hiring new workers instead of bridging the gap of skills lost from retiring workers. It’s imperative for healthcare organizations, from solo practitioners to large practices, hospitals, health systems, and insurance companies to work towards retaining the expertise of older, more experienced workers.

Here’s how organizations within our sector can better prepare for the mass departure of experienced and skilled workers from the workforce, and mitigate the challenges these organizations may face.

1. Leverage succession planning

As older, more experienced healthcare workers from the baby boomer generation move into retirement, healthcare organizations must think proactively about who will fill these roles. The skills gap within our industry is only speeding up and hiring with the goal of filling current gaps – such as management positions – won’t be a sustainable strategy to deliver quality patient care.

Instead of looking outside of the organization to fill open roles, employers can focus their efforts on developing in-house talent by leveraging succession planning. Creating development paths for workers and preparing them transition into key positions – such as management and leadership – will help support business continuity, helping to close the gap left behind by retirees.

2. Make learning collaborative

Employers must get in front of this demographic shift and start breaking down knowledge silos. Tenured practitioners have accumulated years of experience in the industry – from identifying patient complications quickly to developing patient and family communications. They also have years of practical institutional knowledge, spanning practice resources to operational procedures. Experienced practitioners in management roles also know how to assign the right practitioner with the right skill to the right patient or assignment, and how to lead a team of healthcare professionals such as admins, assistants, and technicians to deliver excellent patient care. Organizations must work harder to retain knowledge and determine a strategy that creates opportunities for newer generations of workers to learn faster and more efficiently.

Younger generations of healthcare workers are seeking more collaborative learning methods, which means organizations will need to make training programs less structured and more interactive — something that helps workers retain information and also makes training more enjoyable. One example is using social learning platforms, which can help empower workers to drive their own development in an informal manner. Some hospitals have even implemented apps in which doctors and their residents can discuss cases, share notes, and more. For older workers, these platforms can also enable them to share their expertise in a fast and easy way via a forum or discussion board. Experienced workers or “experts” can answer questions on Q&A forums and share their expertise with the larger team.

Organizations can also implement mentorship programs where tenured practitioners can share knowledge about the organization, the industry, patient care practices, and leadership capabilities with less experienced practitioners and new graduates.

Related: Engage and retain top talent by elevating your employee learning experience

3. Engage workers after retirement

Once workers retire, they’re taking their years of accumulated knowledge and skill with them, and the door is often shut after they’ve left the workforce. Leading healthcare organizations are preparing for the imminent Silver Tsunami and implementing creative ways to keep top talent engaged post-retirement.

These organizations have programs that encourage recent retirees to stay connected to the company for the first couple years of retirement. This can include formal training sessions where workers can come in to share their experience, or simply an open line of communication for retirees to answer questions or provide career advice.

4. Document knowledge in a central system

In the healthcare sector, exchanges of information and knowledge are critical to patient management. Organizations will need to invest in tools to centralize collective knowledge and business critical information, such as where resources are located, so team members have on-going access. Further, mobile access to information such as safety procedures will help practitioners quickly find the information they need in a moment’s notice – an imperative during workers’ busy shifts.

Training and development initiatives aren't typically a top concern for healthcare providers –  organizations tend to be more concerned about reimbursement, compliance, and quality care. Leaders in our industry recognize the importance of equipping their people to address the Silver Tsunami and understand that its effects have only just begun. Healthcare providers will need to focus their efforts on learning and development strategies that support knowledge sharing between generations of talent to ultimately prepare their workforce for this transformative demographic shift.

Learn how to build a next-gen workforce for the future of healthcare

Jarrett Jedlicka

Jarrett has held a number of senior positions at leading healthcare and technology organizations and is a contributing author to Ceridian's thought leadership. 

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