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Planning Ahead

Issue 123, August 24, 2023

With all the data at our disposal, why aren’t we connecting the dots to ensure better outcomes? To be more specific, let’s look at our healthcare system – and you can use it as a metaphor for your own strategic planning.

Next Gen Career Shifts

Take two trends: the US population is aging and so many next gens are more interested in entrepreneurship and tech startups than medicine as a career. What are the unintended consequences? There are not now, nor will there be enough physicians and healthcare workers in the near future to care for our population. Projections show the gap will continue at least through 2034.

You could make the same parallel for the future of education, retail, transportation, and manufacturing. These sectors are losing out to other more glamorous career options. Part of the problem is that these industries do not market themselves as fulfilling careers matched by desirable compensation.

Retail, for example, is perceived by next gens as limited to frontline sales counters even though there are a myriad of tech-driven positions that have become more critical in a digital marketplace.

Education has its own set of problems. From a student’s perspective, higher education triggers a significant lifelong debt. Gen Z has a desire for iterative skill building through certification and short-burst training programs. The New York Times reports, “College degree alternatives may still play a worthwhile role for some students. For all the benefits that accrue to earning traditional two- and four-year degrees, large populations of learners need something different. Tailored, short-term, skills-based programs and credentials in everything from data science to graphic design should be widely accessible — and they should be simple to acquire and reacquire over a lifetime, to meet changing needs. Whenever possible, students should be able to combine them, over time, into two- or four-year degrees.”

Education in many cases lacks context and yet it impacts personal decisions on what skills are necessary for different career options. Instead of education offering two tracks – practical skill-based education and humanities/sciences – students are pushed into general education that often doesn’t prepare them for a job. And in their minds, it might not matter since personal fulfillment, work/life balance, and a high-level quality of life are more of a mandate for them.

Education as a teaching career is now shadowed by a divisive public discourse on what can be taught (and read) and how to teach matched by abysmal salaries and a bureaucratic red tape nightmare at state and city levels. The politics of higher education are equally discouraging as there seems to be a move among critics to “protect” (read: shield) students from certain knowledge.

Transportation has increasingly become a transactional industry instead of a service industry led by quality customer experiences. Almost every form of public transportation has leveled down resulting in unhappy passengers and irate customers. It has diminished from a glamorous career to fly to exotic destinations or cruise to desirable locations to a utilitarian job with minimal customer service. Flight attendants are taking defense training due to the irrational demands and inconsiderate behavior of customers.

And manufacturing? It’s a toss-up between a downscale career image that cannot be shaken, and … here come the robots.

So, you fill in the blanks.  We will not have enough qualified employees to serve an “X” industry, and therefore its customer base.

The Future of Healthcare

So, to return to our main point about healthcare, our position is that despite having a wealth of data, we continue to ignore it. Without being guided by objective data, we can’t take proactive steps to resolve the current situation which is only going to become worse.

Look at it this way: certain diseases like obesity and diabetes in our Southern states are leading to morbidity rates higher than in some developing countries. Yet the US is viewed as the leading global economy with a higher standard of living. It doesn’t make sense, right? Our personal choices and behaviors surely play a role, but perhaps more important is the missing puzzle piece of preventative care. Why?

As we mentioned, there are not enough physicians to go around. And those that do practice struggle to fit in a high number of patients per day and have to rise to the occasion of meeting so many patients’ personal demands. That rushed encounter leaves little time for constructive and helpful patient discussion — and even less time to stay on top of overall healthcare issues. Patients that get an appointment within six months are the lucky ones. This is standard practice in many urban healthcare systems: there aren’t enough specialists to meet patient demands. And rural areas are even more challenged as populations (including physicians) migrate to the cities. Those who choose to stay behind must drive hours to receive the medical care they seek.

The conundrum is that our cities continue to grow with more and more young rural residents moving to the big city to find a career. This leaves the support systems needed in rural areas in shambles. At the same time, our urban centers have grown to the point that exceed existing support systems. Again, the core issue is that not enough individuals are choosing to become physicians as a career. It’s true that physician associates and nurse practitioners can fill some of the gaps, but our Federal Government has identified healthcare deserts across many parts of the US. Despite new government funding focused on increasing career opportunities for primary care and mental health (and even medical specialties), there simply aren’t enough individuals in the funnel to meet the needs of our population.

This problem has become highly political as Congress seeks to decrease drug costs,  but solving the larger crisis is a matter of debate. Broad solutions are being explored in isolated instances (colleges, associations, etc.). But solutions are asymmetrical while the crisis continues to deepen.

What should we be doing? What actions should we take?

  • Do we decrease the cost of medical education?
  • How do we entice high school and undergraduates to consider a career in healthcare as a physician?
  • Are there changes that need to be made across the career requirements (education, residency, certifications, etc.)?
  • Is this a case where design thinking may help reveal a holistic change to an antiquated system?

Is the system irrevocably broken? The answers require critical thinking, synthesis, and analysis of data, and moving beyond current news-making headlines and political motivations.

Workforce Challenges

In terms of a workforce, if next gens are not actively recruited and trained, with the promise of learning and advancement, you won’t have a workforce. A LinkedIn study reports that almost 70% of Gen Z and millennial workers say they plan to leave their jobs in 2023. It adds worker dissatisfaction is only part of the story, as inflation has outpaced salaries nationwide. Yahoo Finance states, “If Gen Z and millennials are demanding more from their jobs, there’s a good reason: They’re the most educated Americans in history. Some 63% of millennials have a college degree, while 57% of Gen Zs 17 and older are working on one. And yet, three out of four managers find Gen Z more difficult to work with than other generations, according to a recent survey by Resume Builder. The criticism from managers is that Gen Z workers lack technical skills, effort and motivation, among other skills. It is no wonder they are looking to leave.”

The critical point is that if we don’t build our future workforce, there won’t be enough doctors and nurses to take care of people in need; there won’t be enough teachers for our children; there won’t be enough retail executives to transform that industry; our media organizations will become endangered species subject to generative AI; and our democracy may become at risk with a cadre of leaders with polarized personal agendas rather than public servants.

Planning Ahead

It’s the little disconnected things that we seem to miss or simply ignore when planning or anticipating the future. First, if we took a step back, we would see that there is an opportunity for our organizations to engage next gens and give them critical legacy knowledge and training. On a broader level, we could lower the cost of higher education making a range of careers more easily achievable without a debt burden. We could (and should) put our own biases aside and review our systems to better match today’s values rather than continuing to support a system simply because it’s all we know. We could help support educational career counselors to help students make good choices. Remember, change is constant, society and humanity are ever evolving. Being stuck in the past guarantees a disconnect between any action and response.

We know we can’t solve all these problems ourselves. It’s going to take a public/private coalition of creative and critical thinkers to reengineer our educational system. Although recent reports state that employers are hiring individuals without a college degree, it still matters. The New York Times reports 14 states have dropped degree requirements for many state jobs. “The trend is gathering steam at many high-profile businesses, notably tech firms. All this comes as college enrollment, with an assist from a tight job market and worries about student debt.

“In a world marked by economic wellbeing, expensive college degrees represent a barrier rather than a steppingstone. The argument goes: Many talented people, including disadvantaged minorities, may possess the skills needed for many white-collar roles without holding the formal credentials listed as prerequisites.”

Planning ahead is not rocket science. It is the art and science of predictive intelligence. It requires critical thinking and the ability to spot patterns and connect them back to your business. At 2040 we help our clients anticipate the future, not catch up to it. We look at population and demographic shifts and how these will impact organizations in terms of their customer base and future workforce. We advocate better use of the intersection between customer and industry sector data. And we urge that organizations become accountable in planning their future with foresight and insight.

When you see a trend, pay close attention and be proactive in how it may shape your business.  As we said, it’s not rocket science. It’s common sense.

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