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"Marco!" "Polo!" CHIME Survey Points To A Hidden Talent Pool

October 30, 2012
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With thousands hoping to be IT . . .

Late last month, the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), released the results of a recent survey of chief information officers, which found that more than two-thirds are reporting shortages on their staffs.  As reported here at Healthcare Informatics, "The most recent survey, conducted in July, found a higher percentage of respondents (67 percent) reporting shortages than two years ago, when a similar CHIME survey found 59 percent of respondents reporting staffing shortages."

For those of us who make our living helping to bridge and overcome that gap between talent supply and demand, the overall findings in this survey were not surprising.  But there was one specific statistic cited in the survey that was particularly unsettling.  In assessing the impact of the new national Health IT Workforce Development program, developed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) (again from the Healthcare Informatics article),

"The 2012 survey found that 68 percent of respondents are aware of the community college and university-based training programs, which have graduated 8,000 by July 2012. However, the new training programs have yet to significantly impact staffing needs, with only 12 percent of responding CIOs reporting that program graduates have been hired."

In case you don't remember, let's back up a moment.  I wrote about this program on April 13, 2010:

"On April 2, 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced awards totaling $84 million to 16 universities and junior colleges to help support the training and development of more than 50,000 new health IT professionals.

According to the original funding documents supplied by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), to fulfill the diverse needs of the health care delivery system including support for public health agencies, a total of 12 healthcare IT workforce roles have been identified. Each role will require specific educational preparation. Six roles will require university-based training, and six will require six months of intense training, most likely in a community college or distance-learning setting. Upon graduation, it is anticipated that those trained to fulfill these rolls will be able to support nationwide deployment of certified EHR technology and to provide support for the appropriate and secure use and disclosure of electronic health information to improve health, health care delivery, and protection of individuals’ privacy.

Because this program aims to rapidly increase the availability of individuals qualified to serve in specific health information technology professional roles requiring university-based training, this program will emphasize training programs that can be completed by their enrolled students in one year or less."

So here we are, 8000 graduates later, (with thousands more currently enrolled in these programs), and out of the 68% of CIOs who even knew about the 84 million dollar program, only 12% reported hiring graduates?  What number does that translate into?  My guess is not many.  Diving a bit deeper into the CHIME survey supports that theory:

CHIME Survey - Table 4. Chief strategies for coping with IT staff shortages

Hiring third-party consultants

28%

Hiring from within the organization and retraining

20%

Other (multiple strategies)

18%

Using recruiters to find and place qualified staff

15%

Depending on HIT vendors to provide implementation staff

8%

Other kinds of outsourcing

6%

Developing a pipeline of students by collaborating with local colleges and universities

2%

 

Not good.  Especially if you're a college or university that is touting a solid, tangible career option for its students. Or even worse, a student who made sacrifices to enroll in and complete the program, with the unspoken but implied promise of landing a job in HIT upon graduation.  And for those of you with unmet staffing needs who would love to hire these graduates but can't due to bottom line deadlines that require experienced, specific vendor software-certified, plug and play team members?  To (very) loosely quote Don Henley, for you "it's no picnic either, baby." 

So what's the solution?  My intention in writing this post is not to pass judgment on CIOs who are unwilling/unable to find a way and/or the time to hire and train these graduates, nor is it my plan to chastise the ONC for unrealistic expectations when it comes to projecting outcomes.  My intention is to focus more attention on this significant potential resource and to start a discussion about what needs to be done to bridge the gap between bright, talented, available, and trainable graduates and the gaping staffing holes that need to be filled now and into the foreseeable future. 

I have a few ideas:  For starters, how about taking the funds that continue to be allocated for additional community college programs, and redirect them into establishing hands-on internships for existing and upcoming graduates?  How about some type of reward/incentive program for hospitals and/or vendors who are willing to hire and train the graduates? Additionally, now that the programs' effectiveness can be measured (through placement rates) perhaps it's time to take another look at the curriculum to determine if it's even possible to produce "hireable" graduates in six-months' time.  (See the comment from a community college grad (just below the blog post) to get one opinion on that topic).  These are just a few ideas - I'd love to receive an email from the ONC telling me that all of these plans were in the works.  (If not ONC, I welcome the chance to help you!) 

I hope to get more insight on this issue through the comments - what am I missing, and what can be done to help bridge this gap?

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