Degree Stigma and Hiring

Is Degree Stigma Affecting Your Behavioral Health Clinic Staffing?

Many factors have contributed to the ongoing hiring issues we’ve been reading about in the news. In 2021, a record number of people voluntarily left their jobs in a movement referred to as the Great Resignation. Since then, many employers have struggled to find well-qualified employees to fill empty positions, leading to longer wait times for consumers and clients, and placing more stress on the limited number of existing staff.

The healthcare industry has not been exempt from these challenges. According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1 in every 5 job openings is in the healthcare field.

Over the last two years, behavioral health has been one of the most significant drivers of growth in healthcare, spurred largely by the ongoing mental health challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased demand and more funding allocated to expanding access have also necessitated the creation of more behavioral health roles than ever before.

However, many clinics have been unable to keep up with hiring qualified staff, leading to longer wait times for clients in need of critical mental and behavioral health care, and increased workloads for clinicians. 69% of healthcare hiring professionals have said they struggle to find and hire talent.

The Cengage Group surveyed 1,000 hiring decision-makers across various industries within the United States and compiled their research in their 2022 Employability Report. The results from the survey revealed that one of the largest drivers behind the current talent crunch is a skills mismatch between what employers need and what potential employees offer. In many situations, this is being driven by what hiring professionals call “degree stigma” – the idea that employers are looking for formal qualifications rather than the actual skills they need for a given position.

What is Degree Stigma?

Degree stigma is the idea that only a traditional college or university degree makes an employee eligible for a role within their organization. According to the CEO of Cengage Group, “employers seem to be stuck in a contradictory cycle, where they recognize that a degree is not an indicator of job readiness, but nonetheless require them as part of their candidate screening process.”

Degree stigma is outdated and only serves to help widen the labor gap by turning away potential talent for no reason other than the fact that they do not have the requisite degree. It does not consider their other skills, including courses taken, training and experience, and non-degree credentials.

Unfortunately, degree stigma is pervasive across a broad spectrum of industries. Only 9% of employers do not require a degree to apply for entry-level jobs. And 26% of employers still believe that degrees are an essential indicator of a candidate’s qualifications, even for entry-level positions.

How Degree Stigma May Be Affecting Behavioral Health Organizations

While most therapist and behavioral health clinician positions require a master’s degree, there are often positions within a clinic that do not require this formal education. For example, receptionists, clinic managers, and other community outreach positions are not governed by the same degree requirements. 

Refusing to consider candidates without degrees for these positions may cause your clinic to be short-staffed if you are unable to find suitable candidates within this smaller pool of applicants. Clinics and organizations that are unwilling to examine their hiring practices and evaluate any degree stigma they find are putting themselves at a considerable disadvantage in a crowded hiring market.

It is important to remember, more than 60% of the U.S. population doesn’t have a traditional four-year degree, and is even lower for marginalized populations. By removing this requirement, employers will not only benefit from a vastly expanded talent pool to fill staffing gaps, but they’ll also be able to demonstrate more social purpose. 

Mental and behavioral health organizations that hire with diversity and inclusion in mind – rather than focusing solely on a certain type of degree – are better able to attract a diverse array of patients who need care. By hiring staff that reflects the community in which you serve, you are better able to offer culturally relevant services that reflect the makeup of your practice.

How to Hire Great Staff Without Degree Stigma

Fortunately, clinics can take action to change their perspective on hiring and make their positions more appealing to potential employees. Here are some suggestions for ways to overcome hiring practices that may help bring on great staff who will continue supporting your clinic’s goals and growth.

Evaluate whether degree stigma is influencing your hiring. If there are positions available in your clinic that have been listed with a degree prerequisite that don’t actually need one for the work required, now is a great time to discuss making a change. Changing the hiring qualifications to focus on the skills required – rather than an arbitrary degree – can help make the position available to a much wider pool of applicants. 

Embrace flexibility. To help meet the current “work from home” movement and make these positions more attractive, clinics can take advantage of different employment practices like remote or hybrid work. Embracing these more flexible options can help open your position up to more potential employees, including those who can only work remotely or who are coming in from further away and would prefer to commute less.  

Provide more on-the-job training. In addition to removing the degree requirement from applicable job listings, behavioral health clinics can also provide more on-the-job training. This allows them to teach new skills and customize the practices learned to suit the needs of their clientele and business goals. This includes training sessions for tools like your behavioral health EHR, so new staff are familiar with its inner workings before they begin working directly with clients.

Stress in the behavioral health field has impacted the lives of clinicians and clinic workers immensely over the last two years. Since demand for services has increased and healthcare worker burnout is rampant, hiring practices that aren’t filling roles for high-quality candidates in a timely manner should be re-evaluated. Otherwise, we risk letting a shrinking number of available clinicians serve a rapidly growing number of clients – an outcome that benefits no one.

To help support the expansion of counseling programs with limited resources, mental and behavioral healthcare providers need new tools to streamline time-consuming operational and financial functions. EHRs are key to generating efficiencies that free up administrative time so you can focus on supporting your clients. Our solution offers features designed to help keep your organization’s financial and clinical operations running smoothly, so you can focus on what you do best – taking care of your patients. To learn more about how NextStep Solutions is purpose-built to help behavioral health practices operate at their best, contact us today. 

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