Podcast: A Healthcare Talent Acquisition Pulse Check

Challenges and Solutions for an Evolving Industry

Demand for qualified health professionals is rising, and the industry is also experiencing wage inflation. Further, many health professionals are retiring while health systems are unbundling. How do healthcare TA leaders keep up? 

Listen in as Greg Karr, executive vice president of customer success at Sevenstep, and HRO Today CEO Elliot Clark explore the evolution of TA in healthcare and celebrate the innovative, creative offerings workforce solutions providers have brought to market to help companies be ready for anything. 




Elliot Clark: Good morning, good afternoon or good evening and welcome to another HRO Today educational podcast. I'm Elliot Clark, the CEO of HRO Today, we publish HRO Today Magazine, HRO Today, EMEA and HRO Today APAC, as well as produce the HRO Today forums and educational events held around the world. And we manage the HRO Today Association.
Today, we're going to talk about the healthcare industry, and I'm thrilled we have a great guest. Greg Karr is executive vice president of Sevenstep. Sevenstep is one of the most highly rated RPO firms on the HRO Today Baker's Dozen in terms of the general categories, they're also highly rated globally, but they are one of the very top providers in our healthcare index. They have a great deal of expertise in working in the healthcare sector, and today we're going to talk about the healthcare talent acquisition sector. And frankly, healthcare is feeling a little stressed. So Greg, welcome to the podcast.

Greg Karr: Thanks for having me. It’s a primary focus for us for sure – the healthcare vertical –  happy to be here and happy to speak to some of that and say that the space and the folks in it are a little stressed. It’s a very, very safe statement. It's a bit of a hectic time for sure.

Elliot Clark: I like making safe statements. It cuts down on the negative mail that I get. 

So you know, let me frame it for our audience, Greg, one of the fastest growing parts of the economy in the USA is healthcare. But against that we have an aging population. We have demographic shifts. We have significant retirement waves among healthcare workers both during and now subsequent to the pandemic. This has made demands for physicians, nurses and other allied health professionals very high. It is one of the hardest verticals in which to recruit, as well as we have a rampant wage inflation wave that's running through the health care professional community. 

So, the healthcare market is evolving and so are the best practices for talent acquisition. Everyone's trying to keep up with this. And Greg, you recently were part of our People in Healthcare conference and one of our featured speakers. So now with that sort of gloomy opening about all the problems, let's talk about some of the solutions, right? All right. So, I talked about the challenges. Let's discuss the current state. 

Now you have a number of large healthcare clients as RPO customers and others for whom you do consultation. So you have a very broad perspective on the marketplace. What are some of the things that healthcare organizations are doing now to ensure that they can get the staff they need? And which of those do you believe are current best practices? 

Greg Karr: I think just quickly, basically something you said a second ago. You're right. I think there's a fair amount of stress in the system for sure, and you can use “doom and gloom” or any other kind of phrase or characterization. I think the biggest thing that I take away and it was definitely evident that your events that I attended recently, we're hearing it all the time in the context of our clients and our prospects. There's a lot of really exciting and really fun things happening to address what you just asked. 

What are organizations doing to ensure that they get the staff that they need? We've seen an awful lot of investment and adoption in the space, which from my perspective is quite new. I think some of the necessities of COVID really fueled that, and over the last two or three years we've seen volumes growing. But you know just a real willingness, real creativity and an awful lot of innovation and I think it's made it a really fun space for the people in it, you know as practitioners and providers to really try to tackle it. Again, unfortunate that some of it is in response to meeting some pretty stressful climates, but you know if you geek out on talent acquisition, it's a fun time to be doing it in the context of healthcare. 

As we think about key strategies and maybe better practices, I can highlight a few for sure, you know, quickly and maybe come back to a couple you know as better practices. Leveraging data for sure is a huge priority and again I would really emphasize the word “leveraging.” I think that there's a real imperative to not just have data and have reliable dashboards which in and of itself is a pretty recent development and capability that exists in a lot of companies quite frankly, but certainly in healthcare being able to really understand what's happening, but then to leverage it by using predictive analysis, prescriptive guidance becomes super, super important. As you know hiring volumes are very volatile as you're seeing you know ton of acquisition and merger acquisition activity, what organizations need to hire and where is very fluid. And so really having reliable data becomes critical. 

We've invested heavily in that context in our product set. We're seeing a ton of investment, you know from third party and organizations themselves are really spending a lot of time to get access to and use data. 
So, I think also anybody in talent acquisition is sort of always fighting the battle of making whatever they can systematic in terms of workflow. 

Again, COVID really put some pretty serious logs on that fire for healthcare in particular. And we've seen really a lot of movement in streamlining screening and assessment activities, off and onboarding processes, hiring manager service level agreements. Some of that stuff isn't new across industry, but in healthcare, it has been a bit different. And I think this has become critical as you think about recruiters feeling burnt out in that space and kind of how they want to work, their push to make work systematic and really map and stick to processes is a great development. 

Kind of along with that, a really intentional focus on implementing recruiting technology. The use of tools to automate processes and whether that's automation, machine learning, AI tools – anything that can be used to streamline work, hire more efficiently, enhance candidate experience and put recruiters in a place where they're recruiting versus processing is really gaining a lot of steam. And I would really highlight that for sure as both a real focal point and a better practice. And again, we've seen a real willingness to adopt then spend money on these tools in this sector, which again is I think quite new.

Elliot Clark: Well, let me stop you for a moment, Greg. And you've got great perspective. I mean, you've been with Sevenstep for 15 years. You know, as the executive vice president,  you're dealing with clients in terms of their design and their implementation. But do you think,  in fairness, that they're spending more money? 

Do you think that to get data you've got to have good data access, you've got to have good data capture tools, you've got to have the technology to do the analytics on the data, you've got to have the applicant tracking and candidate relationship management solutions? Do you think the healthcare industry is getting the capital expenditure budget that they need to get that level of sophistication or is it still a battle in some of the healthcare organizations to get some of the tools that frankly the large corporations take for granted at this point?

Greg Karr: Both. Honestly, I think it's definitely a battle. I do think that whether you’re a large corporation or a small corporation, at some level, there's a lot of pressure on budgets. 

That's certainly the case in healthcare. It's absolutely the case in healthcare in any system or plan that's maybe under 10,000 or 15,000 people. There’s real pressure on that – that industry overall – as it relates to just how can you make money. Certainly as you get bigger, some of that economy of scale is mitigated. 

But you had somebody at your, at your event, a huge health plan talk about how they're having no problem getting budget, and they're bringing in startups – AI startups and different contexts. So, I think there's definitely pressure on budget. There's no doubt about that, so it's hard in there, and people are absolutely fighting for it. But I'm absolutely seeing a real progressive rate of adoption, and whether that's established tools and technology or newer tools and technology, people are taking risks. They're investing in new tools and ideas, and they're getting adoption.

They’re getting buy-in from either a financial stakeholder, a clinician, certainly from candidates. I mean the candidate wants a consumer-grade experience, right? So anything that you can do and much of their demographic, you know our folks that again where and when and how they're applying to jobs and interfacing with your recruiting organization, just dictates that there's some level of automation and tools you know engaged to make sure that they can move through that process pretty quickly.

Elliot Clark: So that's where we are now, let's talk about the future – always a harder question. How do you think the healthcare sector will evolve, and what must the talent acquisitions team do in the future meet that evolution? You know, because we're also seeing healthcare sort of unbundle seeing things like you know the Minute Clinics and CVS, we're seeing the rise of the non-physician, whether it's nurse practitioners, etc. So, think about how healthcare is evolving. How should the TA function itself evolve? And remember, we're going to have you back in five years to see how accurate your predictions turn out to be. So Greg, predict away. 

Greg Karr: Yeah, I mean you know how the position, how the function, how the space will evolve is probably simple and complex at the same time. I mean it's just going to continue to change. There's just simply no doubt about that. And every data point shows that. Rate of aging, you highlighted a couple of them, right? How healthcare is provided, how clinicians feel. There's huge rates, 50% of nurses are reporting feeling fatigued and burnt out. 

You're seeing really dramatic and quite frankly pretty scary predictions related to the number of clinicians that intend to leave the workforce and what kind of a shortage we're going to see. And, of course, you're seeing really dramatic merger and acquisition activity. You know this. We've seen, whether from a provider perspective or from a health system perspective, there is a continued push to consolidate. And I think we're going to see larger and fewer health systems providers and insurers. We're going to see supply and demand pressures grow even more pronounced. 

I think automation and telemedicine will definitely evolve, and that'll change certain clinical roles and care models obviously. But in terms of how the function will evolve, it's just going to keep getting harder. 

So that's I guess both hard and easy to answer at the same time. In terms of what  we do in response to that or what's happening in response to that, certainly some of the things that I think everybody's paying attention to will of course be very, very important, right? 

I just mentioned  how we use recruiting technology Certainly how you build your recruiting teams will continue to have a real focus again, even as you add new technologies and you work to automate and you work to streamline workflow and processes. 

There's no doubt that you've got to really think about how to engage your recruiting team, how to streamline their work, and that'll be a big focal point. 

I think we're seeing specifically in healthcare, a couple of things that are unique. We're seeing a real surge, and I think we will continue see a surge in early engagement and training programs. We've heard conversations certainly about high school students, but even earlier where organizations are focusing on promoting, explaining healthcare, the space, what kind of roles and careers are in demand and how people can participate. I think other targeted programs – military, neurodiversity, refugee, ban the box – there's going to be return to work and retiree programs. I think we'll see a surge in really trying to make sure that you're branching out from sort of your core or what has historically been your core sources of talent. 

I think certainly type of worker as well, so not just permanent folks, right? But I think workforce planning and how organizations are going to be approaching that will really evolve. So, focusing on skills-based recruiting, focusing on continuing to evaluate how to use contract labor, but at the same time, I think there'll be a lot of pressure on some of the traditional kind of ways of accessing and hiring contract labor. I think that that will continue to change. 

And I'd say lastly, from my perspective and this is both a recruiting and a retention tool, we've seen a real push to move from marketing the employment brand and the employee value proposition and what it means to work in our health system to operationalizing that brand. And what I mean by that is there's incredible pressure on the people providing service and healthcare. That's obviously clear. The best companies are reacting with programs that deliver meaningful options to that workforce right, that those folks need grace, they need support, they need care themselves as a clinician, right? 

So we've seen organizations building really powerful wellness and human capital programs to take care of their staff, take care of their people and retain them. And of course I think that that's also increasingly a talent acquisition strategy, right? In other words, as a clinician, I want to go to a place that's going to value me, you know, and care for me as I'm providing critical services, but in very challenging environments.

Elliot Clark: All great points. And we're certainly seeing the rise of these very, very pervasive and comprehensive wellness programs as both to your point of talent acquisition and retention strategy. And I do agree with you that I think contingent labor is going to change. We're seeing a lot of organizations that were heavily relying on external providers begin to think of it more as the creation of their own internal talent pools. Even for categories like travel nursing, you're seeing companies going away from some of the legacy providers to say we're going to build an internal talent pool and create some level of infrastructure. Let's see if they can do that efficiently, but it's certainly happening right now.

Greg Karr: Well, you can argue that whether it's inefficient or not, it'll be more efficient or certainly more cost-effective than some of the strategies that they're employing today. We're seeing the same thing. I think that's a real focal point.

Elliot Clark: Yeah, I am sure in the consultative part of your Sevenstep practice, you're getting asked that question a great deal. 

All right, we are out of time. But a really fascinating discussion of what's going on in healthcare talent acquisition, and Greg made a few predictions. We'll check back with him as I said in five years to see what he thinks. I want to thank Greg Karr, who is the executive vice president of Sevenstep. As I said, they're one of our leading providers of recruitment process outsourcing in the healthcare sector and other talent acquisition services. Thanks a lot, Greg, for taking part in the podcast.

Greg Karr: You bet. Real pleasure to join, and I appreciate the opportunity just to spend time with you.

Elliot Clark: Well, likewise and we'll have you back with that. Folks, this is Elliot Clark. I'm the CEO of HRO Today, and I want to thank you for your time and attention. And we'll look forward to seeing you on our next HRO Today educational podcast.