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How LifeLabs responded to COVID-19, which compounded healthcare recruitment and retention challenges. 

In November 2020, Swae announced our partnership and pilot with LifeLabs to help crowdsource COVID-19 business and operation solutions directly from employees.

While remaining in full operation during COVID-19, LifeLabs had to continuously adapt to the ever-changing landscape with the health and safety of their customers and employees at top of mind. The team reacted swiftly by streamlining operational procedures, modifying their business model and services, and updating policies to remain agile and consistent. 

With great and persistent change comes the challenge of keeping everyone aligned. To support employees, the LifeLabs leadership team wanted to ensure they were hearing internal feedback quickly, addressing complex challenges collaboratively, and keeping an ear open for insightful ideas for improving the organization, all at the same pace of the changes required.

Swae was engaged to help them achieve these goals with a pilot program, formally launched in January 2021. The program was intended to help the LifeLabs team focus on the ‘Future of Work’ and understand how they could adapt processes at their labs and collection centers in a post-pandemic world.

The Swae pilot was initially sponsored by the company’s Lab Operations division. When it began, 28 leaders were invited to join a session to brainstorm, suggest, and collaboratively prioritize the most pressing problems and areas of concern while identifying potential solutions.

THE CHALLENGE 

The top priority that surfaced through their efforts with Swae was the issue of attracting and retaining highly skilled Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists. This industry-wide challenge came from increased competition for these roles stemming from the global pandemic and existing long-term trends of increased scarcity for these roles that had been impacting the industry.

The concern of attracting and retaining trained Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists is not unique to LifeLabs. This is a challenge affecting the entire healthcare industry. 

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the medical industry has an aging workforce that is retiring earlier than expected. Referencing a Statistics Canada study, they found that as baby boomers move towards retirement, the supply of medical staff has not kept pace with the retirement rate.

The study found that the average retirement age for Canadians employed in health and social services between 1976 and 1980 was almost 65 years, but 10 to 15 years later the average dropped to approximately 62 years. This 3-year reduction and deficit significantly impacts the availability of Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists and other specialized medical staff to fill critical roles. 

A recent study on the Fastest Growing Industries and Professions in Healthcare by the Skilled Immigrant Infocentre also identified that Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists are among  the highest in-demand professions across the country. In British Columbia alone, they estimate 1,520 new job openings by 2025. While there is significant demand for these professionals, the supply of Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists has not kept pace. 

When Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists first join LifeLabs, they receive an investment in training and development within the first eight weeks of their employment. For LifeLabs to consistently compete and continuously improve as an organization, it was imperative that they continue to retain their in-demand and highly-trained employees.

Given the uncertainties in the market, this challenge proved very difficult to solve with simple solutions. 

THE SWAE OPPORTUNITY 

When in doubt, innovate! This became LifeLabs’ motto as they addressed each organizational challenge head on. 

By using Swae’s platform, the discovery and brainstorming process uncovered several brilliant ideas from participants to effectively address the various problems they faced.

The group’s biggest area of focus was around talent retention and attraction. The idea that gained the most engagement and traction included offering a retention bonus and student loan subsidy or reimbursement to help newly-trained Technician students pay back a portion of their student loans if they remain employed at LifeLabs for a period of up to two years.

This idea can be a major incentive at any point of a person’s career, but is a definite advantage during times of great uncertainty. In addition, they thought this idea could help LifeLabs improve the incentives for retaining talent while also attracting new applicants.

Over the 30-day pilot, this specific idea gained over 50% engagement from the entire cohort, had an average vote of 82% from 14 managers, and allowed colleagues to collectively raise potential risks and easily discuss all facets of this potential solution in a constructive manner. 

This idea graduated into an official management review by the Vice President of Operations and Human Resources leaders. Together, leadership from across the organization conducted a light feasibility study to stress-test the idea and they now have plans to turn it into official company-wide policy. 

IMPACT OF THE UNCOVERED SOLUTION

Once implemented, the idea could help retain up to 10 Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists per year, helping solve a particularly challenging industry-wide retention issue. This in turn could help LifeLabs repurpose scarce resources and re-investment in other areas to continue growing their business.

This potential solution could be a major win for the organization and will be closely monitored throughout the implementation of the policy to fully understand the overall impact more accurately and attribute any positive outcomes back to the Swae pilot. 

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