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Workforce development after COVID-19

COVID-19 has provided many lessons for the nation’s rural hospitals, including that leadership and the right skills for the tasks at hand are key to navigating difficult times.
The challenge is how to build those leaders and obtain those skills. Traditionally, recruitment of external staff, workforce development for internal staff, and hoping that certain skills will be learned ‘on the job’ have been the top strategies for developing necessary attributes.
Recognizing that an educated workforce is essential, many rural hospitals are looking for ways to transform traditional approaches to workforce development. They want cost-effective programs that equip staff to meet real-world challenges and provide measurable results. Here are important questions to explore to achieve those goals.
What is the ROI of workforce development?
All health care providers – and perhaps rural hospitals in particular – must ensure every dollar invested is well-spent. Workforce development should be held to the standard of any other investment — it must provide measurable results. Ways to measure ROI include staff retention, improvement in patient satisfaction, and reductions in lawsuits. ROI can also be tied to specific programs, such as decreases in compliance violations or increases in internet security following related courses.
What types of programs are offered?
Look for programs that offer the knowledge and skills your organization needs to address its challenges, such as leadership, finance, compliance, health law, or project management. Ensure programs include lessons that reflect the needs of the current health care marketplace, such as resiliency, stress management, team-building, and diversity and inclusion initiatives. 
Who develops and teaches the course?
When asked what’s needed to make workforce development more meaningful to their organization, hospital executives often note that courses don’t provide real-world training — useful information about the actual issues hospitals grapple with daily. Those who have practiced in the health care industry understand first-hand the responsibilities and challenges of the profession. The best educational programs for health care are developed collaboratively by experts from the industry. They are created with and facilitated by industry experts who share personal experiences, insights, and knowledge. 
Do learners remain engaged or do they drop out of courses or have no measurable skills upon completion?
When it comes to workforce development, a few of the more frustrating areas for administrators are learners who quit programs halfway through and those whose knowledge hasn’t demonstrably improved after a course. This might happen for a number of reasons, such as poorly designed programs, content that is deemed irrelevant by learners, or courses that don’t fit into busy schedules. The best online educational programs emphasize interactive and smart learning technologies, as well as modern tools to facilitate collaboration with others. Look for courses that incorporate real-world projects and provide lessons that can be immediately applied to daily tasks and challenges.
What does the student receive after the program is completed? 
Especially given the additional stresses and strains from the COVID-19 pandemic, rural health care providers need acknowledgement of course completion and ideally continuing education credits to aid their careers. A certificate from a recognized institution that students in rural areas may not have a chance to access due to their location helps bring a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, it provides valuable and tangible proof of skills learned and courses completed.
While the nation has made great strides in the battle against COVID-19, new challenges and opportunities will arise. Regardless of their location, organizations seeking to meet today’s challenges should look to online workforce development initiatives. Working with proven educational partners, hospitals can improve access to quality patient care, provide workers with needed skills and support, and ensure they can navigate the many obstacles facing rural institutions.

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