Building Skills for a More Strategic Health Workforce: A Call to Action

The de Beaumont Foundation and its National Consortium for Public Health Workforce Development today released the report Building Skills for a More Strategic Health Workforce: A Call to Action, which offers guidance on strategic, system-wide approaches to public health workforce development at the federal, state, and local levels.

State and local governmental public health agencies have long played a critical role in improving the nation’s health, but need to continually adapt in order to lead their communities. Changes within public health agencies (i.e. job losses, significant turnover, advancing technology, and changing patterns of disease) and in the broader economic, healthcare, and policy environments are converging to reshape the role of governmental public health. These changes reinforce the need for a strong public health workforce that can be strategic and work across sectors to address the social and economic factors that drive health.

“Public health agencies can’t address today’s health challenges alone. It’s important that our workforce is equipped with the skills needed to communicate effectively, develop partnerships that broaden our impact, and engage in the development of policies that make communities healthier,” said Ed Hunter, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation.

The Foundation convened the leaders of the nation’s key public health organizations to form the National Consortium for Public Health Workforce Development. With the help of long-time public health expert Jim Pearsol, the consortium reviewed today’s workforce needs and identified key opportunities for growth in the public health field. The consortium found that a renewed focus was needed on skills that cut across scientific disciplines, allowing agencies to engage more effectively with the public and with partners that are increasingly important to achieving broad health gains. Specifically, the recommendations focused on steps to build workforce capacity in:

  • Systems thinking
  • Change management
  • Persuasive communication
  • Data analytics
  • Problem solving
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Resource management
  • Policy engagement

“We found that as the public health workforce is striving to address the complex array of social, physical, and environmental factors that impact health, there are critical skill gaps”, said Brian Castrucci, chief program and strategy officer at the de Beaumont Foundation. “The consortium’s report provides key insights on these systems-oriented, strategic skills and challenges the public health field to build capacity in those specific areas.”

Top recommendations from the report include:

  • Elevate strategic skills to equal status with specialized skills. Since these skills are just as important to public health success as discipline-specific skills, workplace policies and practices and academic programs must treat them with parity.
  • Invest in strategic skill development. Federal and other funders must actively recognize the importance of strategic skills and support grant recipients’ efforts to develop them.
  • Build systems, not silos. Strategic skills are vital to effective public health performance across sectors. To have an impact on population health, officials at all levels must seek to cultivate the skills that enable better communication, management, and collaboration.
  • Develop effective and engaging training. New training programs and expertise must fill the current gaps. Public health agencies and funders must work with academic programs and other partners to develop and deliver high-quality training in strategic skills.
  • Create a coordinating mechanism. We need an ongoing mechanism for developing strategy and coordinating specific steps to make strategic skills a reality across the country. This cannot be a “set-and-forget” initiative.

Read the report and see a full list of the consortium members.