Innovations in the Health and Human Services Workforce

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State and local governments face greater competition for talent even as the demand for specialized health and human services (HHS) jobs grows, according to a new report from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) and Kronos.  The research includes examples of successful retention strategies and innovation, and it highlights the key drivers behind long-term HHS employment trends:  the aging of the U.S population and cost constraints on government spending.

These findings are contained in a new report, Innovations in the Health and Human Services Workforce: State and Local Governments Prepare for the Future. This report was researched and written by SLGE’s Elizabeth Kellar and Gerald Young and released in collaboration with Kronos.

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One notable case highlighted in the research is the multi-agency team established in the Dayton, Ohio, region to tackle the opioid epidemic. The team, led by Montgomery County, Ohio, public health officials, includes Dayton community police officers, judges, hospital administrators, and leaders from the coroner’s office, chamber of commerce, faith-based organizations, the nonprofit community, law enforcement, and fire and emergency services from multiple jurisdictions. All of the partners recognize the need for a data-driven effort built on accurate, reliable data and analysis.

Dayton & Montgomery County Public Health publish monthly updates that demonstrate dramatic progress in reducing overdose deaths, from a high of 566 in 2017 to 289 in 2018 with a continuing decline in 2019.  Another benefit is that there has been little staff turnover; the leadership of the initiative has not changed since it launched in 2016.

These finding come as the U.S. Census Bureau anticipates an 18 percent growth in public and private healthcare occupations. While growth is greatest in lower-wage jobs such as home health aides, demand is also strong for physician assistants, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, mental health counselors, health care social workers, and other HHS careers that require considerable education and training.

To compete more effectively and combat the stress of HHS jobs, the report finds that leading organizations have adopted many of these strategies:

  1. Establish good relationships. Candidates considering a social work job in a rural community like Butte County, California, are more likely to accept the job and stay in the organization if they meet people who can help them.
  2. Provide learning and growth opportunities. Often a top priority for employees, professional development also helps build a pipeline of candidates who are prepared to take on more responsibility as vacancies occur..
  3. Ask employees what is important to them. The Bureau of Working Families in Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families began to survey employees annually in 2015.  The leadership team committed to analyze the survey results and take action on targeted areas for improvement.
  4. Stay focused on the mission. People drawn to health and human services jobs are passionate about their work and drawn to a public sector mission. To retain people who are motivated by a desire to help others, leaders can tell stories that remind employees to picture the person in need who is counting on their best efforts.
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