When we speak to students about careers in health care management, we often talk about the perfect storm we now have of demand for services and the retirement of baby boomers, leaving our health care system with a void of skilled workers. In many of these conversations, we are so enthusiastic about the market and availability of jobs, we have a tendency to overlook the obvious: the field needs well-prepared graduates who are employable.
The March 2013 issue of Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice focused on employability and career success. The articles addressed such topics as transitioning from school to workplace, need for definitions of career success, developing employability, stigma and discrimination, focusing on the employer, and the role of “social/interpersonal compatibility.”
According to Hogan, Chammoro-Premuzic, and Kaiser (2013), the definition of employability is “the capacity to gain and retain formal employment.” The authors created the RAW model (rewarding/ability/willingness) of determinants of employability from the candidate’s profile and the employer’s perspective:
“Social/interpersonal compatibility so they can be rewarding to deal with.
Abilities, expertise, know-how mean they are able to do the job.
Ambition, work ethic, drive mean they are willing to work hard.”
(Hogan, Chammoro-Premuzic, and Kaiser, 2013, p.12)
On first blush, this model resonated with me. For over two decades, I have had the pleasant challenge of educating students to become competent, confident, and reflective practitioners. Years ago, I relied on the classic article by Katz (1955) on the skills of effective administrator, to inform and advise students about what they needed to be employable. Katz wrote three skills were needed:
Conceptual skills (big picture and systems thinking)
Technical skills (knowledge and expertise in a specific area), and
Human skills (what we now call interpersonal skills). (Katz, 1955, p. 34).
Although fifty-eight years apart in time, these two models are not that far apart in terms of what it means to obtain and retain employment. There is, however, a bit of a disconnect between health administration competency models and these models.
While health care management speaks at great length about interpersonal skills, I fear these critical skills continue to receive short shrift in the curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The emphasis for many programs continues to be on coverage. Often, we are so frantic to make sure we check off all the boxes for the subject matter for professional development, we forget to reflect on the process of professional development. Moreover, while this process is frequently referred to as soft skills, I like to remind my students that interpersonal and process skills are darn hard to acquire and practice each day of our lives.
We also need to ask our employers what they want and expect in terms of interpersonal skills for new graduates. A sampling of the research I have found on these “soft skills” indicates employers want:
Emotional competence (Nelis, Kotsou, Quoidbach, Hansenne, Weytens, Dupuis, & Mikolajczak, 2011).
Enthusiasm, dependability and team-working (Saunders, & Zuzel, 2010)
Self-esteem and cultural competence (Potgieter, 2012).
These researchers asked employers what they wanted. Using this as an example, the next step would be is skill acquisition. In addition to the internship, practicum, or capstone experience, who should teach and assess these skills? How should they be taught? How do we assess enthusiasm? Do we select only those students who appear to be enthusiastic, a trait perspective? Or do we assume this can be taught, a state perspective? What about self-esteem? Can we instill this in our students by providing scaffolded assignments with increasing levels of difficulty?
Should we require health care management students to take the EI-360 and work with a coach if their emotional competencies fall below normal ranges? In case you are unfamiliar with work in this area, the literature indicates that managers who have strong emotional intelligence skills outperform those who do not, a good business reason to have these competencies (Cherniss, 2009). Broadly, Emotional Intelligence, or EI, encompasses self-awareness, self regulation, self motivation, social awareness, and social skills, and within each of these areas, specific skill sets (The Consortium on Research for Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, 2009). Supervisors, co-workers, subordinates and family members complete the online EI 360 instrument. Afterwards, a coach works with the subject of the EI 360. Having done this, I can tell you it is not an easy experience. It is analogous to having your gums scraped. Yet, if you want students to grow and become better leaders, then feedback and the reflective process that follows is critical for development. Is this something we should require our students to complete?
How do we select the right subset of competencies within interpersonal competencies to address to improve our graduates’ employability? Here is my plan. We built our graduate program on a well-known competency model. I want to know more about the competencies our employers feel are most relevant to their needs. Using our competency model, I am going to A.S.K. my advisory board and employers which ones they want, and how they suggest our students acquire them. Then I will see what I G.E.T. After I have data, I will consider my alternatives, come up with a plan, and at the same time devise a way to assess my plan once implemented.
Now, what’s your strategy to assess, address, and improve your students’ employability?
Sharon B. Buchbinder, RN, PhD
Sharon Buchbinder is Professor and Program Coordinator for the MS in Healthcare Management at Stevenson University in the Graduate and Professional School and former chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration (AUPHA). She is also the author of three books from Jones and Bartlett: Introduction to Health Care Management (with Nancy H. Shanks), Career Opportunities in Health Care Management (with Jon Thompson) and Cases in Health Care Management (with Nancy H. Shanks and Dale Buchbinder.)
Here are some additional resources if you are interested in this topic.
Buchbinder, Sharon B. (2009, July 29). Emotional intelligence and leadership. http://portfolio.jblearning.com/health/2009/7/29/emotional-intelligence-and-leadership.html
The Consortium on Research for Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. (2009) The Emotional Competence Framework. http://www.eiconsortium.org/reports/emotional_competence_framework.html
Cherniss, C. (2009). The business case for emotional intelligence. http://www.eiconsortium.org/reports/business_case_for_ei.html
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Hogan, R., Chammoro-Premuzic, T., & Kaiser, R.B. (2013, March). Employability and career success: Bridging the gap between theory and reality. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 6(1), 3-16.
Katz, R. L. (1955). SKILLS of an Effective Administrator. Harvard Business Review, 33(1), 33-42.
Nelis, D., Kotsou, I., Quoidbach, J., Hansenne, M., Weytens, F., Dupuis, P., & Mikolajczak, M. (2011). Increasing emotional competence improves psychological and physical well-being, social relationships, and employability. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 11(2), 354-366. doi:10.1037/a0021554
Potgieter, I. (2012). The relationship between the self-esteem and employability attributes of postgraduate business management students. South African Journal of Human Resource Management, 10(2), 1-15. doi:10.4102/sajhrm.v10i2.419
Saunders, V. & Zuzel, K. (2010, June). Evaluating employability skills: employer and student perceptions. http://www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/journal/vol15/beej-15-2.aspx