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How the Fergus Falls Healthcare Industry is Fostering Tomorrow's Workforce

As baby boomers begin to retire, a new generation of workers is set to take their place. What many companies are now realizing is that the incoming workforce is much different than in the past. The future workforce is “comprised of entrepreneurial digital natives who want to gain a sense of meaning from their work.” Millennials and gen Z grew up in the age of technology and have a profoundly different outlook than previous generations. Their unique skills, interests, and viewpoints require companies to think outside the box with how they attract and engage with the future workforce — a sentiment echoed by many. Findings by PwC suggest, “Companies that understand and act on these workforce changes now will not only have the skills but also the organizational motivation, innovation, and adaptability to thrive.”

Industry leaders are in a unique position to get creative with how they interact with the future workforce. Employers are starting to realize the importance of connecting with potential workers early on, and in many cases, while they’re still in school. While internships and co-ops aren’t a novel concept, there has always been room for improvement. Today, companies are taking these opportunities to the next level with programs designed to help students get on-the-job-training as early as high school. In some instances, they may even receive a scholarship for their post-secondary education in exchange for working for a company.

Greater Fergus Falls recognizes the need to prepare the workforce of tomorrow. The incoming workforce is composed of individuals with adaptable skills; it’s our job to help them hone their skills and develop their work ethic. With that in mind, we wanted to highlight three industries in Minnesota taking strides to foster tomorrow’s workforce: healthcare, construction, and welding. This three-part blog series will explore the innovative way these industries are shaping future employees at a local level. In light of the pandemic and an ever-rising need for healthcare workers, we thought most appropriate to start with the healthcare industry.

Healthcare is the Most In-Demand Occupation in Minnesota

Healthcare is one of the largest and most in-demand industries in Minnesota. According to DEED, a position as a Registered Nurse ranks #1 as the most sought-after occupation statewide. In Otter Tail County, the healthcare industry makes up 20.4% of the labor force with 5,037 jobs. In Fergus Falls, that number increases to 26.5% of the labor force and accounts for 1,502 jobs.

While healthcare is a vital industry in Fergus Falls and all of Otter Tail County, it’s not exempt from the ongoing workforce shortage. In 2019, the healthcare industry accounted for 25% of the total job vacancies in Otter Tail County — the highest in the region. So, it’s safe to say that the need for qualified healthcare workers was high even before the pandemic struck. However, it was one that the industry had already begun taking steps to correct before COVID-19.

Many companies, from big-name hospitals like Sanford to smaller care facilities, have begun implementing programs that allow them to connect with and train potential future employees. These programs are crucial to build on and enhance the skills students already possess. Investing in training opportunities helps employers cultivate a strong work ethic and develop future leaders. By creating connections with students still in school, employers can get them excited about their career path and keep them engaged throughout their post-secondary education.

LB Homes Offers Students Hands-On Training Opportunities

LB Homes, a senior care facility in Fergus Falls, also recognized the need to connect early on with local students. The facility has successfully implemented its Nursing Assistant Training Program, which provides on-site training, mentorship, and professional development to those interested in pursuing a nursing career. Adults, as well as high school and college students, are welcome to apply for the program.

Wayne Stender, who assists with marketing and development at the facility, says programs like LB Homes’ Nursing Assistant Training Program are crucial for cultivating tomorrow’s workforce. Young students who make up the incoming workforce can see what a specific position is like, how it aligns with their skills and interests, and what the expectations are for that role. There’s no pressure to commit immediately, but if they decide it’s a good fit, the students can earn a position. As Stender says, it’s a “test drive for both the employer and the employee with a specific purpose and timeline.”

Adapting to the Pandemic

While the Nursing Assistant Training Program was in place before the pandemic, LB Homes has done a fantastic job of pivoting to accommodate operational changes, including adding additional training programs. “During COVID-19, we’re conducting on-site training through a special provision called Basic Care Aide (BCA). Students or adults in the BCA program conduct a paid online training as well as clinical training at LB Homes. From there, they’ll be able to serve as a BCA on the floor and can take their certified nursing assistant test when it’s available,” Stender explains. The facility has also implemented an Emergency Response Team to assist with various tasks during the pandemic, including COVID-19 screening procedures.

Soon-to-be high school senior, Chloe Bauman, has been part of the Emergency Response Team almost from the start. Bauman has been dreaming of a career in medicine for as long as she can remember. Her own experience as a premature baby with corresponding health issues is her inspiration for pursuing a career as an OB/GYN specializing in fetal medicine. Bauman's plan has always been to work in the healthcare industry, but the pandemic spurred her to take action sooner than expected. Feeling called to help during these difficult times, Bauman decided to spend her summer working at LB Homes while completing her CNA certification.

Though there have been challenging moments, Bauman has found the experience beneficial. She says, “I’m grateful to have various opportunities to work in many sectors of healthcare so that I can fully appreciate and understand the many moving parts.” Stender agrees that it’s important for students to have the chance to explore different areas of healthcare. When people think of healthcare, they often think of doctors and nurses, not quite realizing the breadth of what’s out there.

“We often have a romanticized view of a job. Getting hands-on experience can help get a full picture and creates the chance to learn about positions that a person may not have known existed. Sometimes people feel called to explore healthcare administration. Sometimes they’re called into social work because they see how they can care for families and residents. At LB Homes, there are so many opportunities, from home care to hospice care, that people really get a chance to understand a broader picture of healthcare,” Stender remarks.

The relationship between LB Homes and Bauman has been a mutually beneficial experience for both. Bauman found it “rewarding to learn from others in the field and to work alongside several other young people” while completing her CNA certification. For Stender and the rest of the LB Homes team, having Bauman on the team has been just as satisfying. “Chloe seamlessly joined our team and built an understanding of the organization while also becoming confident that joining our nursing team was something she wanted to do. We’re excited she’ll be with us this year and hope she’ll continue with LB Homes,” he notes.

Looking to the Future of Healthcare

When asked how he expects the pandemic to change the healthcare industry and training programs, Stender is optimistic. “We have a need for quality workers, and our programs really support and encourage students. I think moving forward, we will see our partnerships strengthen because students are able to get hands-on experience and will likely have more opportunity to work as more classes and programs go online to adapt to education in the coronavirus era.”

There’s no real way of knowing for sure how the pandemic will affect the incoming labor force. However, Greater Fergus Falls is proud to be part of a community committed to fostering the future workforce. Be sure to check out part two of this three-part series in the coming weeks — and special thanks to Chloe Bauman, Wayne Stender, and LB Homes for sharing their experience with our team!

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