Category: News & Events
September 13 2016
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Julie Wilson discussed innovative ways to address the skills gap during the annual Missouri Department of Economic Development conference. This is a recap of takeaways and thoughts that were shared during the session.

We’re a company of 24,000 associates in 27 countries and each associate plays a central role in digitizing and helping improve the health care delivery system and the health of communities around the world. The quality of our software and services is a direct reflection of the capabilities of our team. We need great people with the talent and passion to make health care better.

In our industry, the pace of change is accelerating and the complexity is magnified, which means there are new skills and capabilities required at a faster pace than ever before and at our size, in much higher numbers. 

But, we aren’t the only ones looking for that talent – nearly every employer, large or small, needs people with technical aptitude and analytical abilities – we are all looking for people who can identify and solve the next problem…and the next problem…and the next.

And, there simply is not enough talent we need to go around.

Consider this:

  • According to, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, through 2020, there will be 55 million job openings in the economy. Of those, 24 million from newly created jobs and 31 million openings due to baby boomer retirements.
  • Job openings in health care, community services and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) will grow the fastest among occupational clusters.
  • McKinsey and Company estimates by 2020 there will be a shortage of 1.5 million college graduates.

Think about the talent drain. The hole is deep and it’s going to get deeper. Randstad Salary Survey reported that two-thirds of hiring managers struggle to find talented people to fill job openings.

Now we certainly don’t have all the answers but we are working hard to crack the code. So, Michelle Brush, Cerner director of development, shared an approach that works for us from an engineering perspective.

Michelle led the redevelopment of our engineering onboarding at Cerner. Cerner has nine different programming languages. You would expect the gaps to be with health-related and Cerner-specific training. However, Michelle’s research revealed that the missing link was problem-solving. The skills to trouble shoot, test for quality, attack and simplify the problem.

Therefore, we introduced DevAcademy, or Development Academy. We realized if we could get engineers to improve in practices, we could take the great engineers we were hiring and immediately make them more productive. We made problem-solving the foundation, knowing that understanding our technology can come later. The onboarding program now is extremely feedback driven and we pair new hires with two engineers that provide weekly insight. Once placed on a team, we have seen the time it takes for new associates to make substantial contributions to the software go from six months to now one month.

Now this is how Cerner tackled its own engineer-specific needs. When it comes to the STEM industry as a whole, Laura Evans, senior director of talent development highlighted two methods we use to help fill the capability gaps and what we are doing inside and out to stimulate pipelines.

Cerner works early in the educational process to develop partnerships with K through 12 students. We recognized that we needed to identify partners that have the same goals in mind. We both understand this is a large problem and we can start small, exchange feedback, measure benchmarks, adjust and repeat.

One successful program we implemented with the North Kansas City school district is Cerner Scholars. This program provides opportunities for students to work alongside Cerner professionals. We added some context, which helps get them engaged, which we found was a challenge. This way they are immersed in our culture and are able to be truly engaged while increasing their capabilities and readiness.

The school district was learning as well. We were able to assess and learn a lot about what engaged students, what their capabilities really were and what their readiness would be when they entered a professional environment.

There is also the Center for Advanced Professionals Studies (CAPS). CAPS engages junior and senior students in a professional environment with curriculum developed by industry professionals and program instructors. This way, what is taught in the classroom is relevant to the workforce. There is a pretty big gap between the way we are educating in our academic silos and the way we have to bring all that together when they enter the real, competitive world.

So we try to connect the things we’re doing at the elementary and high school level to our post-secondary partners and also how they approach curriculum. We explain what students need to be learning and what they should be walking away with from their educational experience.

Laura actually closed with a great point. She mentioned that our industry is fast-moving and we should really look at how we can evolve the educational piece faster, to keep up with how fast they are learning in the industry. How do we increase our pace with these educational partners, how do we connect more frequently and effectively, and do it in-depth?

I’m glad Michelle and Laura could share two different perspectives. Collectively, we know there’s a big challenge – and there are some great, creative, innovative and even disruptive ideas out there. We certainly don’t have a perfect answer, but these are some approaches that work for us. I think we need some real disruption to move the meter in a big way.

Julie Wilson,Chief People Officer

Julie Wilson Chief People Officer Cerner


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