5 Advancement Obstacles of Entry-Level Associates You May Not Be Thinking About

Health systems look to offer opportunity to entry-level workers, to help these lower paid workers find their footing and understand healthcare’s many potential career pathways. Frontline non-clinical associates are some of healthcare’s critical employees. These are support and administrative roles, like aides, assistants, environmental, nutrition, and security. These frontline employees may be your potential candidates for high-need roles, like a nurse aide who moves up to become an LPN. To advance these workers to higher paying roles, it may require L&D, career bridge programs, credentialed programs, mentoring, or further secondary education. This may sound simple, but there are advancement obstacles that entry-level employees face that you may not be thinking about. Uncovering advancement obstacles in your health system, then planning to mitigate some of these, can help well-intentioned HR advancement programs be more successful. What could a few of these obstacles be? 

Lack of confidence

Frontline, entry-level workers may want to improve their families lives, but not really believe its possible due to lack of confidence.  These workers may have low levels of formal education, have extended periods away from schooling, and possibly limited English proficiency. Employees also may not understand just how many roles are available in a large U.S. health system.

At Catalyst Learning, we often hear that entry-level associates feel stuck. An environmental services aide for example who wants to move to a CNA or medical assistant but isn’t confident enough to know where to begin on creating a plan to get there. The hectic pace of everyday life, focused on the basics of providing for a family, may lead to a lack of time to develop confidence. Whatever the reason(s), workers lack confidence may look like lack of ambition, if not shown the right opportunity.

Do not understand HR tools available to them

An HR team may feel like they have the cornerstones set for effective career management policies. But entry-level employees may not have the right communications to understand them. Are there programs that are easily accessible for employees who job doesn’t have them regularly on a computer? Does anyone from your organization meet 1×1 to help coach and make sure employees understand HR tools? If not, what is a step to get there?

Career coaches, as an example, can be a vital part of the career management team. They can provide ongoing assessments with employees and identify skill and advancement barriers early. Coaches can refer workers to appropriate support resources. For many entry-level staff, they may have never had anyone help them to create a career development plan.

Lack of formal, understood career paths within and between roles

Unlike some roles that have distinct career ladders, entry-level health roles have limited opportunities to become more highly skilled/valued. If workers feel like “this is just a job,” it leads to high turnover, often with workers going to other industries that offer better schedules, less health risk, and less taxing work.

Do many of your nurses’ aides move to higher paying patient care tech roles? Do many environmental/dietary employees move to transport or higher paid tech positions? If so, make sure this is clearly communicated. Lack of understanding career pathways is a barrier to worker advancement.

Communications do not have to be formal, top-down directives. One method of increasing the awareness of your career pathways is by embedding them in career development programs like CareerCare®. CareerCare is a comprehensive tool that helps frontline healthcare employees craft personalized career plans and matches them with in-demand jobs within your organization. By increasing awareness and connecting employees that align with your jobs, you’re breaking barriers to advancement and retaining top talent.

Limited alignment between organizational priorities and workforce programs

In your organization, there could be internal issues that are barriers. Maybe there are communication issues that do not get down to entry-level workers. Maybe senior leaders are just not involved? Senior leaders may have general worker advancement program awareness, but question the long-term value of these investments. Without strong organizational commitment, career advancement programs may be eliminated later.

Lack of support from manager/supervisor

As health systems struggle to remove advancement barriers that frontline employees face, they may not think about an employees’ manager. Helping employees understand and seek out advanced roles may not be found in a thicker training manual; it may be in having a supervisor with a coaching mentality. A good supervisor/manager helps frontline employees identify skill gaps and develop soft skills, because it makes workers more effective at their job. But not all good managers are good coaches. A manager may think they are coaching when they’re actually just telling their employees what to do.  Helping employees improve decision-making, problem-solving, conflict resolution, time management, and communications are foundational skills for role advancement.

Are you familiar with Catalyst Learning Company? Our organization activates the potential in frontline healthcare employees through proven professional development solutions, solely focused on entry-level and nursing employees in U.S. health systems. Catalyst Learning has helped more than 45,000 frontline healthcare workers to grow in their professions by identifying healthcare career pathways and developing workplace skills.

“7 Human Resource Management Basics Every HR Professional Should Know,” Academy to Innovate HR, Erik van Vulpen

“CareerSTAT | National Fund for Workforce Solutions,” Who are Frontline Workers?”

“Developing Entry-Level Talent: How to Invest for Success,” Talent Culture, Crystal Crump, March 21, 2023

“Employer Strategies that Promote Success in Entry-Level Jobs,” Generation.org

“Maximizing workforce participation for people with barriers,” Wilder Research Center and The Wilder Foundation