Jacqueline Burandt, President of Award-Winning Results: Rethinking Employee Development
Van Ton-Quinlivan: Welcome to WorkforceRx with Futuro Health where future-focused leaders in education, workforce development and healthcare explore new innovations and approaches. I’m your host, Van Ton-Quinlivan, CEO of Futuro Health.
Helping more people get on the pathway to careers in healthcare is what Futuro Health is all about. So, we know firsthand how many barriers there can be, from English proficiency to digital literacy, to holding down a job and caring for family while trying to learn. Our guest today spent decades at University Health System in San Antonio, Texas, breaking down those barriers through employee training and education programs, and is here today to share her insights — most of which apply to employers in all industries.
Jacque Burandt is now president of Award-Winning Results, a firm that focuses on transforming organizations through people development and gaining recognition for employees. She also helped write the Association for Talent Developments’ recently published handbook for training in healthcare. Thank you so much for joining us today, Jacque.
Jacque Burandt: Thank you so much for having me, Van. It’s very exciting to be here. Your work is amazing and I’m happy to be able to contribute some of the experiences that I’ve had.
Van: Jacque, let’s start with getting an overview of your work at University Health System and the kinds of training challenges and achievements you saw there. What are some of your proven practices from your UHS days?
Jacque: My goodness, there were so many challenges. But I’m happy to say there were lots of successes, too. I spent thirty-two years there as the executive director of the Center for Learning Excellence. When I walked in, I recall being somewhat horrified. It was my introduction to healthcare. I never knew one single thing about healthcare. I had worked in two high-tech firms, so I was very shocked to see that there was so much work to be done. I remember telling my husband, “Oh, I’m just gonna take this job until something I really want comes along.” He teased me about that for over thirty years.
When I started there, to be honest, University Health had an identity crisis or lack of self-esteem. We were known at that time as Bexar County Hospital District. You wouldn’t think that a name necessarily would have that much to do with the training, but it does. People didn’t really want to be associated with a County. They saw that as subpar. So very early on, we realized for internal reasons and for external recruiting and the public, that we needed to change our name. So, we became University Health because we were, and are, the teaching facility for University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. That was a big help.
We also set about getting a better self-image and better self-confidence by winning some awards and getting some recognition for the great work that we were doing. We weren’t shy about that. We were careful to document our successes, profile our folks who were successful, and get them some great recognition.
At the time, training was also was very siloed in that it was primarily nursing education and clinical education. Very little time or money or any kind of resource was spent on getting all the rest of the staff up to speed. So, I very quickly made that my goal…that we were going to educate and get everyone skilled in what we needed to be a top-class organization.
It was so fulfilling to be able to take those challenges and turn them into successes. It was personally rewarding for me to see someone who came in, for example, as a Bosnian refugee with no English and to see them eventually become an employee of the quarter, or an employee of the year in the annual recognition in the management category. There were lots of successes like that where you could actually see that growth. It was so rewarding.
I’m proud to say that University Health is now widely considered as a top-tier organization, both for their clinical expertise and for their staff competence. University has won the Association for Talent Development Best of the Best award, which is only for those who’ve won ten or more times. They’re right up there with IBM and other big winners with enormous self-esteem. So, I feel like we worked really hard by trying to find the resources.
That’s what today’s talk I know is going to be about: where do you find those resources to build up your staff — all of the staff, not just nursing — when budgets are tight. University is a tax-supported entity and so the resources are tight. It was a quest of building community partnerships and getting national grants from Kellogg Foundation and all sorts of wonderful people who helped out. It was definitely strategic partnerships that got us to move up, and to do such a better job.
Van: Wow. It sounds like a Cinderella story where you really took a diamond in the rough and brought the organization to a level of prominence in terms of readiness and skill sets of the workforce. Can I just push you a little bit on the example you talked about with Bosnian refugees and bringing them into the workforce?
Van: Can you tell us more about the mechanics of that and why employers would want to reach into that pool? Also, what barriers are there for that pool to actually be able to work in healthcare roles in the U.S.?
Jacque: Yes. Great question, and something that we saw with each wave of immigration as each new group would come fleeing from religious persecution, war, whatever, and come in under the Department of State. I remember when I got there, there were still Vietnamese coming in. We would welcome them through Catholic Charities. I’m a huge fan, to be completely transparent, of Catholic Charities as a faith-based organization that’s doing so much good for everyone. And this was a great win-win.
They had new people who needed to get employment, and we had a need at University Health to fill some positions, particularly starting on the night shift. Frequently, when refugees came into our organization, they would receive jobs in the Environmental Services department, which primarily consisted of housekeeping tasks — people who would clean the lobby, the patient rooms, make the beds, things like that.
So, what would typically happen is Catholic Charities would work with our recruiters to place them. We would begin them in a somewhat out-of-the-way job like the night shift on a patient floor where they wouldn’t necessarily be interacting directly with a lot of the public until we had been able to get their skills up. And then immediately, we would try to get them into ESL and GED programs and work with them to upskill. In terms of learning English, this was obviously a patient safety requirement. They had to know English to be able to operate safely.
One of the things that we know in healthcare is that those people by the bedside — maybe the environmental service workers — those are the people that the patients are going to communicate with. Those are the people that they’re going to tell things to that they’re not necessarily going to tell the doctor or the nurse. They were such a valuable commodity, and they had amazing skills in patient satisfaction and empathy.
They had so many great skills that we were just trying to upskill. They would always say, “But this is how we treat our family.” They had cultural skills that turned out to be amazing. Eventually, we would get to move them to another shift where they would come in more contact with the public, and then we were able to use them to become dual-language interpreters for the hospital.
We created an Interpreter Education Program. We put them through that program, and then they were allowed to interpret, whereas others were not. This all came about because of the Joint Commission’s ruling that we could not use bilingual staff who weren’t trained. What had been happening all over the country was that environmental service workers who happen to speak a particular language were being dragged into the Cardiac Cath Lab or somewhere and interpreting for patients when, obviously, that wasn’t appropriate or safe. We were able to elevate these folks to interpreter status.
They got trained, they got a badge, they got a stipend, they got all sorts of additional perks, if you will, for this effort. So, we were able to spot this as a skill that we could use that would benefit the organization, and yet it would also elevate them. That’s what we tried to do throughout: how can we elevate the organization’s business goals and elevate the staff at the same time?
Van: I have two clarification questions. So, this immigrant population that you’re talking about, are you picking the ones that have prior healthcare training or experience and then moving them into your workforce?
Jacque: No, not at all.
Van: Oh! So they could start with no experience?
Jacque: Exactly, exactly. Now, it’s true that we did have people who had some experience. We worked with the community college to see if we could get equivalencies for their training. That was very difficult. In Texas, to get someone who’s not that fluent in the language and needs to pass a certain board certification, it’s very, very difficult. We usually were not able to accomplish that, I’ll be honest. We tried very hard in the beginning and then realized maybe we need a different route.
In this case, we would try to get them into some areas that had adjacent or similar skills. Maybe someone had been a pharmacist in Vietnam, for example, and highly qualified. We may be able to get them to step into the pharmacy tech position, which is clearly not the same. Nonetheless, it’s a pathway to get them in. Then we try to support them with tuition reimbursement, continuing education reimbursement, all sorts of things that could help them to keep going on that path.
Van: So, you talked about coming into healthcare and, I wonder, what do you think is unique about training workers for healthcare?
Jacque: Wow, that is really long answer. I’ll make it as short as I can. It was quite a shock to me to learn what is unique about it. The first thing is that the schedule is 24/7, 365. Everybody is working round the clock, holidays, it doesn’t matter…they’re there. The logistics of trying to figure out when someone in patient care could get someone to cover them so they could come to class, that was different for me. I was used to teaching people who could get up and leave their desk and come back and everything would still be there. So, that coverage issue is very important. The scheduling is very important.
Another really important facet of healthcare that’s unique is the dependency on inter-professional teams. If you’ve ever been to an ER, it’s a team in action. Every single person on that team is vital. Every single person on that team has to know their lane, their skill, what their job is. They have to know how to communicate well with people. It’s fascinating to me that healthcare gives you that up close and personal look as an employee. If I’m a brand new environmental service worker and I’m in there in the ER cleaning up, I’m gonna be able to see that there’s a physician, there’s a nurse, there’s a tech, there are all these jobs that I could have. It’s a way almost of job shadowing every day without having to officially job shadow. There’s a great diversity of jobs in healthcare, and a lot of it is crucial to the workings of that inter-professional team.
I think that’s something that’s unique to healthcare — the logistics, the timing, and the career paths. The nice thing about healthcare is the whole concept of competencies is well-ingrained, and so is the idea of a career path or a learning path.
Van: Fantastic. Thank you for giving our listeners some insights on the healthcare field and what it takes to set-up skilling arrangements for healthcare employees. Now, you mentioned previously that you’ve done work with adult learners, including the refugees with ESL and getting their high school diploma equivalent. What are some insights about how these programs can be most effective?
Jacque: We had varying degrees of success with different approaches that we took. The ones that worked the best were the ones that were on-site. It’s not going to work to ask someone who works a twelve-hour shift, or maybe has another job or has childcare responsibilities…they’re not going to be able to go somewhere to a class like a community college or anything like that. You’ve got to have it on-site.
And again, you’ve got to look at what is the right time to have the class because you have people coming in at 7am, going out at 7pm. There’s a lot of research that has to be done into scheduling. You as the employer need to be the person who offers the room, who offers the parking to the instructor who’s coming in from the outside, who sets up the media, makes sure that you have everything that you need in the classroom, and you can provide a snack. Again, these people are working very hard and they’re going straight to class right after getting off work, so any extra thing you can provide is great.
The best part about working with a community college or someone who’s getting a grant is that they frequently get wraparound services, and this is usually something that we’re not allowed to spend our budget on. For example, bus passes, child care, stethoscopes, scrubs, the licensing, you will be taking an exam to get a certification, there’s going to be maybe a study course fee, then there’s going to be a fee to take the certification. If you can partner with someone like a community college that’s gotten this grant to provide those wraparound services, your success rate is going to be so much higher. It’s a very delicate balance. I remember repeatedly if one thing goes out of whack — like a car breaks down or someone gets sick — it puts the whole equation off, and then probably they can’t be in class and can’t complete the program. So, those wraparound services are fantastic.
Van: I’m glad you brought attention to the wraparound services. I remember my days in workforce development in the energy sector. There was a portion of the training where the students needed to physically go somewhere, and if you can also think about the gas costs associated with getting there! It took coordination of all the students and carpooling and sharing of gas money, not to mention the childcare involved. There’s so many of these small barriers that are in the way of adults getting to the end line.
Jacque: Could I just mention a few more crucial things to success that we learned?
Van: Please, please, please.
Jacque: One is a massive communication campaign, from the start to the finish. How do you let these people know that this program is going on? They’re not necessarily keyed-in to what’s going on there. They may work the night shift or they may be very insular in terms of their communication. So, it’s very important that you work with the company’s communications team to get the word out.
Then the key is their direct supervisor, their manager. If you can get in with them — really treat them well and communicate with them all of the time — they will help you recruit. It’s very difficult to get your message across about the class and that it’s free and what time is and all of those details. So, we worked very hard on communication, we worked very hard with the managers.
Also, the executive office. It’s important that they are up to speed on what you’re doing, and especially the successes. We were very good at keeping a record of our success and our metrics. We wanted to enter these awards. We had to have results because we wanted to share our success with our organization and with the community, for that matter. We had very good spreadsheets. That’s why I could tell you that we had someone who came in as a refugee speaking no English and wound-up being Employee of the Year in the management category — we tracked all of that so that we could report on that.
Also, celebrating. We love to celebrate, and we do it well, and the trainees loved it. We would always have a celebration at the end. A big graduation. We would make our own certificates, and then we would have one from the community college. We would frame them and we would invite their families. It’s very important if you can get their families involved in this too, because they are role models for their families. I have never seen so much happiness as I saw at those graduations. It makes me cry right now, seriously, just to think of it. Those families were dressed up. They brought flowers for their moms, dads, whatever. They were ecstatic.
We always invited all their supervisors, of course, and the executives. We invited everyone. I remember one time someone from outside said to me, “Oh, my goodness, you have wedding- quality food for the celebrations.” And I’m like, “Well, of course we do. This is a big deal.” We wanted it to be seen as a big deal, so we would celebrate and then we would share. We would write case studies about it. We would go on programs, wonderful programs like these, and talk about it. We would have things in our internal communications about it because we wanted them to be famous and to share what they had done with the rest of the organization. So, those are some of the main things: having it on-site, wraparound services, manager support, executive support, celebrations, communication, and sharing.
Van: The whole combination just changes lives, so thank you for sharing the recipe for doing so. Now, I mentioned previously that you had a critical role in the Association for Talent Development handbook. As a matter of fact, you wrote one of the chapters on upskilling and reskilling and I was wondering if you could give us some insights on what you had written?
Jacque: Yes, thank you so much. I wrote three chapters and then co-edited the entire handbook. The reskilling-upskilling chapter turns out to be the one that most people are interested in right now. It’s a very hot topic.. It was funny because I kind of put off writing that chapter. I wrote the other two, and I was a little reticent to start on it. I didn’t know where to start. Then suddenly, I sat down and I realized, “Oh my gosh, this is your whole life. This is what you’ve been doing. Your whole life is upskilling-reskilling.”
I even thought back to my father who was in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and that’s what they did: they reskilled him. My father was a watchmaker and jeweler when he got out. When I was a teenager, I was part of the Great Society and the War on Poverty. I was in the Neighborhood Youth Corps, and instead of spending time at the pool in the summer, I went every day to city hall and typed cemetery records and got some clerical skills. Then there’s everything else I’ve done before I even came to healthcare. I taught Adult Basic Education. I taught GED. I taught ESL. Then, when I got to the health system, it was just a normal thing to keep reskilling-upskilling going, and there was such a need.
It turns out that I guess I’ve been doing it all my life and it wasn’t that difficult for me to write. Then right in the middle of that, of course, the pandemic hit, and everyone was upskilling and reskilling left and right. That was an amazing thing. We all had to learn how to use Zoom and Teams and to meet virtually, teach virtually, to do everything virtually. It was definitely a time of upskilling-reskilling for all of us. I think we could all relate to what some people are going through with technology every day because we had to do that ourselves.
At University Health, we had begun an enormous electronic health record implementation of a brand-new product right before the pandemic hit. We had to change all of that training — convert it over to virtual — which was an amazing feat. There were over 10,000 people who were trained, and a quarter of a million lessons on this new health record we completed virtually. We couldn’t stop the implementation of this electronic health record, so that was a widespread, large-scale digital skills effort that happened very successfully despite the pandemic.
Another thing that happened during the pandemic that had to do with upskilling and reskilling was, in the early part, people were not going to ambulatory care centers. They weren’t getting elective surgeries done. None of those things were happening. People were quarantined, people were locked down, people were at home. All of the people who worked in those facilities needed work. University took those people and brought them to the main hospital where the COVID patients were being brought, and upskilled and reskilled them to take a travel history, which was a big deal at the time. If you can remember, you had to ask questions about where people had traveled, take their vital signs and teach them about PPE.
Interestingly enough, University Health did not furlough or lay-off one person during that time. Not one. Every single person retained their job. It might be a different job, but they were prepared for it through upskilling and reskilling whereas all around us in healthcare, people were losing their jobs. It was a wonderful thing to see that adaptability in the staff and the support of the executive team to say, “We believe in our own internal talent. We’ve been developing an internal pipeline and we’re going to keep doing that. We’re not going to change what we stand for.”
Van: I’m wondering, Jacque, when you mentioned that you were researching ideas on upskilling and reskilling, were there some that were particularly bold or fresh?
Jacque: You know what’s interesting about that, I think the boldest one that I’ve heard — and I don’t know how well it’s gonna fare — is to just ditch the whole idea of academic credentials and let people come in based on skill. We say skill is important and we’re putting all this emphasis on upskilling and reskilling, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter in so many cases what your skill level is because you can’t get past that barrier in the hiring process of not having the right piece of paper. I know people are looking at that now and saying, “Can we convert to a skills-based recruitment hiring? To me, that’s very cool.
Van: Yes, there’s a whole set of parties coming together, and it’s still in its early days, but let’s wish the movement luck. Check out the efforts by the Markle Foundation’s Rework America Alliance, which is a set of national organizations that have come together to promote these types of practices that are more inclusive for the workforce.
Now, Jacque, you feel very strongly that it’s a moral imperative for employers to invest in upskilling and reskilling of the employers. Why do you feel so strongly?
Jacque: I really believe that the solution to ending many of the problems we’ve been experiencing recently — crime and homelessness and so many things — have to do with ending intergenerational poverty, and that requires better education and better jobs. This is where we can make a difference. Each of us as human beings can commit to ending intergenerational poverty by upskilling the workforce.
There’s a saying that a rising tide lifts all boats. It’s a great saying that’s true. However, that doesn’t help you if you don’t have a boat. I think that what we see with upskilling, reskilling, getting a better job… it’s like having that boat that you need for the rising tide. All of us who work and live in our communities, and our organizations are part of that community, we have that moral, ethical and social calling to do what we can to make a better world.
These are people whose lives can be improved dramatically by gaining skills. I’ve seen it happen so many times, and there never ceases to be an end to the need to do this. As we see more and more people coming over — whether they’re coming across our southern border that I’m very close to, whether they’re coming across through the Department of State, wherever they’re coming from — this is one of the things that has made our country great, and it continues to. I feel that we as Americans have that duty, that moral commitment to help everyone to have a better life. In the end, it’s going to help all of us because I think that, again, we’ll have such a better environment to live in. To me, it’s the greatest win-win. I can’t think of a single reason not to do it.
Van: Why don’t we close out with a favorite topic that we both share, which is the topic of public-private partnerships? In my book — which actually has the same name as this podcast, WorkforceRx — I talk about building an ecosystem of willing partners including community colleges, faith-based groups, local organizations…many of whom you’ve listed in your comments. Tell us again, why does that model work? Why do partnerships?
Jacque: Everyone brings something to the table. It’s the perfect win-win because as an employer, you have the workers and you need help. Very few people have the budget to invest in lots of expensive training. So as an employer, you’re seeking someone who can help you out. You have great partners with community colleges who are able to get grants, who have workforce departments. That’s their specialty. They’re trained. They know exactly what to do to come in to assess the skills, to evaluate. They are an ideal partner. I’ve partnered with community colleges now for many, many years and always successfully. They were great partnerships. They need you, because sometimes they don’t have the place. As I said before, you want to have the training on-site, so they’re willing to come in and work with you.
The faith-based organizations, God bless them, I can’t say enough good things about them. They truly have the best interests of people at heart. They have vast experience in developing people. They are really in the people business, so they’re able to sometimes give the support that you can’t give.
So, among the three — or however many entities you can get — you’re able to patch together a great partnership, each one bringing an element to the table that benefits the community. Everyone wants their community to thrive, and these are the three groups that can come together knowing that those relationships go beyond this particular event of a workforce development program. They continue on into the community in so many ways.
Van: Well said. Thank you, Jacque Burandt, for spending time with us today and inspiring our listeners to continue their hard work and their dedication to change lives.
Jacque: Thank you. And that is perfect. That is what we’re all about, changing lives. Thank you so much for shining the spotlight on this very particular way to do exactly that.
Van: I’m Van Ton-Quinlivan with Futuro Health. Thanks for checking out this episode of WorkforceRx. I hope you will join us again as we continue to explore how to create a future-focused workforce in America.