The Health Workforce: Wheels on the Car of the Health System

Rebecca Simon

Former Manager of Strategic Communications

I had the privilege to attend the 2nd Annual Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Symposium at the United States Institute for PeaceUmmuro Adano, Global Technical Lead for Human Resources for Health at Management Sciences for Health (MSH), and a key advisor for the Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project, moderated a panel on workforce development. This was the second of three panels, and was bookended by panels on planning and supporting the workforce.

Diagram from The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance’s "The State of the Social Service Workforce 2015" report.

Dr. Jini Roby, Professor, Department of Social Work, Brigham Young University, used a metaphor during the first panel that made everyone in the room nod in agreement: “Health workers are the wheels on the car [of the health system]. It doesn’t matter how fancy your engine is, you need wheels to go anywhere.”

We can use that metaphor to illustrate the importance of developing the health workforce, as shown in the blue circle of The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance’s Guiding Principles for Social Services Professionals (image above).

  • Align and rotate your wheels regularly. Pre-service and in-service workforce education must be aligned and updated regularly to make sure health workers are responsive to the population’s needs. Align education and training for the social welfare workforce with effective workforce planning efforts.
  • Put the appropriate tires on your car, depending on the kinds of roads you drive on. Do you drive off-road often? Better get big tires with a thick tread. Is your country’s most vulnerable population rural and remote? Invest in training for community health workers and give them tools to easily connect to their supervisors and to each other. Ensure curricula incorporate both local/indigenous knowledge as well as international best practices for improving the well-being of children and families.
  • Keep your tires in top condition and check them often for wear and tear. Constantly evaluate the performance of pre-service and in-service curricula, and make adjustments to ensure it is reaching students and professionals in ways that work for them. Strengthen faculty and teaching methods.
  • Replace your tires as needed, sometimes you need to replace some or all of your tires to get the best performance for your car. Health workers need opportunities to grow professionally. This might mean a change in their role, but could result in better performance. Provide broad range of professional development opportunities for workers.

The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance is a young coalition that “works toward a world where a well-planned, well-trained and well-supported social service workforce effectively delivers promising practices that improve the lives of vulnerable populations.” The thought leaders on the Alliance’s steering committee clearly have a knack for explaining complex workforce issues in ways that make sense. Just like a car, managing a health system is much more complex than making sure you have gas in the tank.

Read more about the 2nd Annual Global Social Service Workforce Alliance Symposium on the event’s Storify summary.

Photo Source: The Global Social Service Workforce Alliance’s "The State of the Social Service Workforce 2015" Report.