Helbling Insight

Helbling Presents at Children's Hospital Association's Facilities Forum

by Sami Barry
Jim Lord and Wes Miller of Helbling & Associates

Helbling & Associates was recently asked to discuss the challenges facing healthcare facilities at the Children’s Hospital Association’s Facilities Forum in Miami, Florida. Due to their expertise within healthcare facilities recruitment, Managing Directors Jim Lord and Wes Miller presented their insight on May 3rd to a group of senior facilities professionals from children’s hospitals across the country. The discussion was interactive, and topics ranged from the shortage of talent to succession planning. Attendees shared their stories of recruitment and talent efforts, and communicated the strategies they have found to be effective. 

Facilities teams within healthcare institutions play important roles in the overall functioning of these organizations. Unless you’re involved in the facilities management sector or understand the complex operations of hospitals and similar entities, you may not realize the significant responsibilities placed upon their facilities professionals and how you can see numerous aspects of facilities management by merely walking into a healthcare facility.

Keeping up with the latest developments in facilities management isn’t easy, and it takes strong leadership in these departments to adequately address critical operations that require 24/7 attention, and equally as important short- and long-term strategies. Not surprisingly, healthcare institutions deal with the same recruitment and talent management challenges related to facilities as most organizations that manage large real estate portfolios and assets. These matters are so concerning that they are considered key priorities in long-term planning and strategies.

Shortage of talent reigns as the most serious challenge

The most common sentiment among attendees was how they are trying to deal with the shortage of talent at all levels within facilities. According to a recent survey from the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), the average age of a facilities professional is 50.9 years, with 50% of the workforce retiring in 5 – 15 years. At the senior level, there are professionals who are retiring. At the entry level, it’s difficult to attract people to the field and then retain them. Mid-level professionals are in limited supply, and they are vital in the fact that they understand the concepts and strategies of facilities management, and the new and advancing technologies. They most likely gleaned tremendous knowledge from senior leaders and are highly valuable employees, and it is essential to retain them.

Lord says, “Some of the executives also expressed their concerns specifically around the limited people within the skilled trades. Co-ops, internships, and recruiting from the military can be ways to enhance that talent pool, and some organizations are offering apprenticeships. Beyond that, many attendees discussed the fact that second shift, which in a traditional setting is 4:00 to midnight, is very difficult to staff. One solution outlined by a peer was to offer shift differential and adjust the hours such that the first shift is 5:00 in the morning until 1:00 in the afternoon. This is actually attractive in some markets to avoid rush hour traffic. The second shift ends at 9:00 at night so the employee could still potentially see their families.”

Expanding the talent pool with non-traditional candidates

To offset the strong demand and limited pool of talent, Lord and Miller discussed the potential of securing non-traditional candidates to fulfill critical roles. From their experience in working with hospitals and similar organizations, attracting professionals from outside of the healthcare industry has proven to be valuable in many situations.

Lord explains, “These non-traditional hires may not have direct experience in the healthcare sector, but they have applicable experiences, management styles, and skills. From what we’ve seen as search consultants, professionals from other sectors can offer different and valuable perspectives of processes, technologies, and best practices. Depending upon the industry and type of organization they were with previously, they may have extensive experience with successfully streamlining processes and enhancing efficiency – both of which are extremely important to medical facilities and operations.” CHA attendees were interested in this concept with most not having considered it previously. They typically are of the mindset that they must attract someone from a similar institution. But that’s not always the case, and it helps in expanding the qualified talent pool.

Some executives commented that they want candidates to have the core values that are important to their institutions. They can teach the technical skills but a strong work ethic, customer service, supporting a mission, being part of the team, and being committed to helping others are all values that are inherent and cannot be taught.

Miller adds, “We would caution that, when hiring outside of healthcare, one needs to ensure that the candidate can adapt and learn the idiosyncrasies of healthcare. This sector has unique regulations, as well as a wide variety of personalities and end-users that facilities teams must interact with and serve.”

Diverse strategies for succession planning

Many of the attendees shared their strategies for succession planning, and how they are grooming younger professionals and exposing them to various aspects of facilities to “grow” and retain them. Lord says, “Implementing rotational assignments can support engagement and provide less experienced employees the opportunities to learn new skills and broaden their capabilities, which is something they desire from their careers.” Although, some attendees did comment that such rotations must be approached cautiously in order to not demoralize staff by forcing them into roles in which they are not interested.

Additionally, encouraging individuals to become involved in industry associations and guiding them on potential career paths also support strong retention and succession planning.”

Changing skill sets

As far as the skill sets that healthcare institutions seek in senior facilities leaders, technical capabilities are, of course, important. But, soft skills are also vital. Miller says, “Our audience agreed that they need professionals with extensive facilities experience and knowledge of how medical facilities operate from a facilities perspective. They also voiced that these professionals must have solid financial experience and leadership qualities, as well as a customer service mindset. From an executive search perspective, it is becoming more common for facilities leaders to have these traits and capabilities to truly play an instrumental role in an organization’s success. The healthcare environment is competitive, it’s advancing, and facilities executives are playing an increasingly significant role within their institutions. Organizations need much more high-caliber candidates than they did ten years ago.”

Both Lord and Miller enjoyed the exchange of thoughts and ideas among CHA’s Facilities Forum members and appreciated their first-hand perspective of the challenges and opportunities they face in making an impact on their institutions. We will continue to discuss these topics in future blogs and articles as we assist and support our healthcare clients in addressing the need for strong facilities leaders in this ever-evolving sector.