Are Nursing Positions Hard to Fill?


by Alessia Leibert

Just over one in four RN vacancies were reported as “hard-to-fill,” based on a new employer survey on hiring difficulties in Minnesota.  Of these, a minority (18 percent) were hard-to-fill exclusively because candidates did not have the qualifications required. In this subset of vacancies, employers were generally lacking work experience in a specific role or industry as opposed to formal educational credentials.

 

The majority—just over half—of all hard-to-fill RN vacancies were reported as hard-to-fill for a combination of reasons: there were not enough applicants with the right qualifications and there was something about the job itself that made it unattractive to candidates. Those “demand-side” conditions included, most commonly, undesirable location, followed by uncompetitive wages or compensation in general, work shifts, and competition from other employers who invest more resources in attracting candidates. Overall, study results suggest that the difficulties employers face in finding adequately prepared candidates are strongly related to characteristics of jobs.

 

This analysis of 893 estimated RN vacancies reveals that factors such as firm location, firm size, and the industry which is recruiting all contribute to difficulties:

  • The likelihood of an RN job being hard-to-fill is much higher in Greater Minnesota compared to the Twin Cities metro area.
  • The likelihood of an RN job being hard-to-fill is substantially higher in mid-sized firms compared to large firms. Large health care establishments have a recruiting advantage because they can advertise more, offer higher wages and learning opportunities, as well as hiring bonuses and other incentives to relocate.
  • Compared to jobs in nursing care facilities, the likelihood of an RN vacancy being hard-to-fill decreases to almost zero if it is in ambulatory services or in industries outside of health care, and to one-third in hospitals. What explains these industry differences? Industries vary on factors that influence a nurse’s choice of where to work, including schedules, types of patients served, and career development opportunities.
  • Post-secondary education and licensure are absolute requirements for work in the RN field. Therefore, the education system plays an essential role in ensuring an adequate supply of new nursing graduates to meet growing levels of demand. Although some employers prefer a bachelor’s over an associate degree, most look only at the RN license. Therefore, adding years of education beyond a license may not ease hiring difficulties. This finding provides evidence against a widespread skills gap for RNs.

 

Poor supply of skills is the root cause of only a small fraction of hiring difficulties in the RN occupation. Hiring difficulties definitely occur, but they seem to be driven primarily by less-than-attractive jobs, firm or industry characteristics, and location mismatches, rather than by the lack of available occupational skills in the workforce. In general, the findings suggest that employers perceive a complex mix of contributing factors.

 

Because experience is such an important component of RN skills, both job seekers and employers have a role to play in closing the skills gap. Job seekers may be well guided to take less than ideal jobs in order to obtain experience. On the other hand, employers who do not offer meaningful development opportunities to their nursing workforce are at risk of losing the talent race. If the goal is to match workforce skills with employers’ needs, both sides will have to adjust their expectations and commit to work-based learning.

 

More detailed information on this topic can be found here (pdf).

 

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