I spend a lot of time reading, thinking about and discussing how best to ensure a future pipeline of talent in the healthcare communications industry. It’s something I’m intensely passionate about, and something I believe we need to do to future-proof our industry. I am filled with pride (and envy!) when I see some of the talented millennials at AXON who have found and joined our ‘secret’ industry and are adding value in the way they think, act, question and deliver. There are massively talented 20-somethings out there, and I can’t wait to see how they take our industry forward.
But activities of the past week have gotten me thinking more about the other end of the spectrum and the crisis we face as an industry in ensuring we don’t lose our (already limited) talent pool at the top end, regardless of our concerns about growing our ranks at the base. At last week’s Healthcare Communications Association (HCA) Annual General Meeting, we discussed issues we face as an industry, and talent was, as expected, a recurring theme. But while we discussed educating universities about healthcare communications careers, someone (wisely) pointed out that we really have as much of an industry issue retaining senior talent. With burn-out and changing lifestyle priorities affecting so many of our best and brightest seasoned veterans, as well as some of the expected challenges in a heavily female-dominated industry, how do we ensure that we recognize the value our senior colleagues bring, and help address the challenges they face?
A few days later I was riveted by the Australian Open finals. It was a contest of ‘veterans’ in both men’s and women’s singles, and astonishingly, both winners were the ripe old age of 35. Clearly this was world-class tennis at its finest, but the fact that it was four ‘old timers’ who drove record-breaking viewing reminded me that oftentimes being the best comes with experience. Having more ‘skin in the game’ means you have more to play for. Having decades of experience means you can bring world-class perspectives, ideas, talent and creativity unrivaled by those who are newer to the game. And that’s worth watching and learning from.
As leaders in healthcare communications, we need to ensure our experienced colleagues remain engaged and excited to continue to grow their careers in an industry and roles that can frankly often feel pressurized, all-consuming, and, at times, thankless. We’ve all been there. And I certainly don’t have the answers—I’ve experienced these issues and concerns myself, let alone know how to solve them at an agency or industry level. Clearly flexible working arrangements and continuous opportunities to learn new skills at any level helps. Providing career paths for senior-level staff helps. Providing a support network of other people at your level facing similar challenges, i.e, through groups like the HCA, helps. Having clients who recognize and appreciate senior input helps. But what else can we do? What can we do to support and recognize (and engage) our 30-, 40-, 50- and 60-somethings as much as the 20-somethings to ensure we can learn from the pros and continue to deliver world-class communications? It behoves the healthcare communications industry as a whole to be thinking about the answers.