In this tight labor market, stop searching for the perfect candidate. Train them instead.
In the Portland, Ore., area, where the unemployment rate is a low 3.8 percent, finding qualified healthcare employees is an ongoing challenge, says Rahul Desai, MD. In recent years, Desai has found a number of quality employees for his practice by hiring workers in their early 20s.
A tight talent market isn’t just a Portland problem: Healthcare practices across the country are struggling to find experienced employees, and young workers may offer a solution.
Generation Z, loosely defined as those born in 1995 or after, is the newest generation to enter the workforce. These young people came of age during the Great Recession and don’t remember a world without social media and mobile technology. Their unique experiences mean many of them bring to the workplace a strong work ethic, desire for teamwork and a high comfort level with technology. Here’s what physician practice leaders need to know about this next generation of workers.
As the first true digital natives, members of Gen Z have been exposed to the internet, social networks and smart devices from their earliest years. Those experiences have “produced a hypercognitive generation very comfortable with collecting and cross-referencing many sources of information and with integrating virtual and offline experiences,” according to research from McKinsey & Company.
That ability to move seamlessly between virtual and offline experiences means these young adults may be able to interact with patients of all ages in the formats they prefer. And the ability to manage information from a variety of sources means they can expertly handle tasks such as synthesizing patient data from interviews and charts to make informed decisions.
For instance, Desai hires medical scribes who are frequently in their early 20s to greet patients, take vital signs and discuss medical histories at the practice he owns, Restore PDX, a regenerative medicine practice in Beaverton, Ore. “They fill out a form while asking the patient questions, and then give me a 5-minute concise report,” Desai says.
Most members of Gen Z value authenticity and have a strong desire to make an impact on the world around them. “The ability to make a difference is the most important thing that I look for in a job,” says Carleigh Stewart, a 24-year-old medical assistant at an allergy clinic in Florence, Ala. “Salary is also important to me; however, if I am not making a difference, work seems pointless to me.”
Young workers’ willingness to rally around a cause they believe in makes them valuable healthcare employees, Desai says. “They see people in a state of disrepair and then see how we help them. Our work is consistent with their beliefs societally and globally, so they can get on board with it. It’s nice to see our ideals are congruent with this generation.”
Related: 4 ways to recruit Gen Z workers
To harness the talents and manpower of Gen Z, physician practices must understand what these workers want and need from an employer - and find ways to provide it. Although Gen Zs want to make a difference, these workers also want financial stability. Because they came of age during the Great Recession, many Gen Zs saw their parents experience layoffs and tighten household budgets. Gen Zs have watched their older siblings or friends graduate college with crippling student loan debt and struggle to decent paying jobs that allow them to repay those debts and move out of their parents’ homes.
Since many of them are also graduating with unprecedented levels of student loan debt, Gen Zs are generally more interested in the financial security offered by a steady job than previous generations have been. For instance, fewer high school seniors today think self-employment is desirable than they have since 1976, The Wall Street Journal reports. Instead of pursuing entrepreneurship, most Gen Zs are more focused on securing a good job and achieving financial stability. More serious than Millennials and less concerned about finding meaning and personal fulfillment in their work, Gen Zs are more motivated by money.
“It is a struggle in my generation to balance money with purpose,” Stewart says. “The cost of living is much higher than the wages we are earning, and our debt from school is outweighing the income we are bringing in. Universities are pushing higher education, but once in the ‘real world,’ the salaries are, in most cases, not worth the debt. That creates stress.”
Recognizing Gen Zs’ need for financial security without crippling debt, many leading companies - including Apple, IBM and Google - have announced they’re no longer requiring college degrees for many positions. Physician practices can capitalize on this trend by developing positions that do not require degrees, help non-certified employees earn certifications and provide on-the-job training and mentoring.
Opportunities for mentorship and growth are also important for Gen Zs on the job hunt. Paid and unpaid internships can provide rich opportunities for employers to get to know young workers and help them develop competencies before hiring them for permanent positions. More than 65 percent of these young workers say they need frequent feedback from their supervisor to stay at their job, according to research from the Center for Generational Kinetics.
And just because some young workers don’t plan to go straight to college doesn’t mean they don’t have plans for higher education after working for a while. At Restore PDX, for instance, Desai says most medical scribes stay on board for one to three years before seeking further education, such as going to medical school or physician assistant school. His willingness to mentor them and understanding they won’t be long-term employees is a draw for them - and helps him recruit their replacements.
“We provide many letters of recommendation for medical school, and they’ve all gotten in,” Desai says. “That fact is helpful in recruiting new medical scribes. After working here, our scribes have great stories to share in their interviews because they’ve had experience working in a really exciting, nascent field. Most of our young employees are able to get into top-notch schools.”
Because technology has provided a constant distraction, some Gen Zs are unpracticed in listening and their interpersonal communication. That means your practice may need to offer more mentoring and training in soft skills to really harness the talents of Gen
Z workers. Desai’s practice emphasizes communication and listening during new hire training. “Listening is a skill that’s fading, but it develops over time,” he says.
In a recent survey, 37 percent of Gen Z respondents expressed concern that technology is weakening their ability to maintain strong interpersonal relationships and develop people skills. As a result, employers may need to provide guidance to help Gen Z employees understand when different modes of communication are appropriate.
However, Gen Z employees’ comfort level with technology can also help older employers modernize their practices and boost their tech savvy. For example, Gen Z employees could help a practice transition to portable devices for intake and coach patients on how to use the devices. They could also help implement text appointment reminders, which have been sown to be more effective than traditional phone calls and voicemails.
Gen Z employees can be encouraged to take spontaneous photos of employees in action to post on the practice’s social media profiles, helping to humanize the practice and build relationships with patients and the community. And that can help attract more younger patients to the practice, too.
While Gen Z workers may require new types of training, they can bring a fresh enthusiasm and an ability to help your practice work smarter. “They don’t want to be tied down but will latch on and welcome mentoring and an environment with freedom to do their job their way,” says Maureen Uy of Uy Creative, a Milwaukee-based healthcare marketing consultancy and member of the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants. “We have to learn to set the rules and expectations while balancing that freedom with accountability.”
“Gen Zs are doers like the World War II generation but will leverage technology to expedite their work,” Uy says. “Training must take that into account. Gen Z must be made a part of the process of not just understanding their role but helping to define it.”
Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer based in Huntsville, Ala.