We’ve all seen the headlines: The Great Resignation has hit health care. Hundreds of thousands of health professionals have left their roles and in doing so, highlighted the fragility of our system and the need to reconsider our view of allied health care workers.

The first step in recovering health care practitioners is to recognize the importance of reasonable pay. While those drawn to health care are often deemed to “have a calling,” that should not be code for willing to accept a less than average living wage. Health care organizations are increasingly surrounded by front-line employers offering wages an hour and an array of benefits (i.e., health care, tuition assistance, etc.) that are viable alternative pathways.

The second and equally important step is to fully articulate the pathway. If, as an organization, you want a potential employee to envision a career pathway from being a patient care assistant to a nurse leader, you need to illustrate that particular pathway, provide access to developmental opportunities for the individual to advance on that pathway, and most importantly, provide resources, like tuition assistance and time off, to support the employee through their development.

Pre-skilling Versus Higher Education

The growing importance of higher education for other career fields can contribute to the common belief that all pre-skilling takes place in a higher education institution, since this provides a safe environment for emerging talent to discover and practice the skills they will need for a specific career. However, limiting all learning before the hiring process to higher education can place high pressure on learners to absorb information for one specific job rather than working to float between career paths.

Given the consistently expanding field of allied health care, having a solid foundation remains critical. Designing small and personal pre-skilling programs can enable learners to interact more with the curriculum and material and make adjustments based on environmental factors (e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic). Educating potential allied health care employees in micro-sized programs can save these workers time and money while allowing them to gain the skills they need now and for later.

How Technology Creates a Need For Reskilling and Upskilling

Advancements in technology can redefine everyday routines and systems for allied health care workers. Digital literacy is increasingly important for front-line health care workers. Ongoing changes in customer service and reporting systems have required new skills sets for employees. For example, at the start of the pandemic, primary care providers developed tele-health appointments, while the pharmaceutical industry shifted to online with options for automatic refills and medical portals to sign up for vaccinations.

This shift highlighted issues that were already present in the allied health care industry. Inefficient phone systems and understaffed locations led to serious issues, including negative work environments. For this reason, reskilling and upskilling moved to the forefront of needed programs. Reskilling employees to complete jobs online or wearing masks when distributing prescriptions took place on the local level rather than a larger level. However, this reskilling calls attention to a broader, more important skill: adapting to change. Creating systems to help employees adapt to change in a healthy way can make growth a smoother, more effective and more positive experience.

Upskilling came in the form of training employees to vaccinate the public. Engaging in the upskilling in the long term could enable public vaccinations for schools. Upskilling allied health care holds the potential to improve the medical field as a whole.

Reskilling Post-COVID-19

Allied health care post-COVID may spark a unique conversation of blending in-person and online systems. Online pharmaceutical services may increase efficiency, but recognizing how to complete tasks in person requires understanding the field versus how to use an application. Reskilling after the pandemic will likely require customer service training, hands-on learning and positive feedback systems to improve the quality of learning.

The focus of reskilling should also shift to address employees’ mental health rather than solely workplace efficiency. Understanding the mental and emotional impact of remote and hybrid work can lead to higher work satisfaction and lower turnover in allied health care.

It’s time to redefine the benefits for allied health care workers, or face a critical job shortage. Providing higher compensation and keeping up with the demand for new skills, including in digital literacy, can result in higher efficiency and happiness for the allied health industry.