What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase “interior design”? Probably not designing for healthcare facilities, right?
However, behind many waiting rooms, reception desks, and navigation signs is a highly skilled, professionally trained healthcare interior designer.
Healthcare interior design isn’t just decorating — it’s a skilled profession that requires proper certification, knowledge of many codes and regulations, an understanding of patient psychology, and extensive training in interior design.
In other words: Healthcare interior design is a very niche profession, which makes hiring for roles in the field quite difficult. Regardless of industry, the more requirements a position has, the fewer applications you’ll receive. What’s more, only a small portion of those applicants will be truly qualified.
Finding candidates and retaining them in a niche market isn’t always easy, but at Inner Design Studio, we’ve devised some creative solutions to increase our chances of success:
Problem: The Industry Requires a Lot of Training and Certification
In niche fields, it’s rare for candidates to have the exact skill set required for the position. For example, in healthcare interior design, many applicants have design experience but little understanding of the numerous and ever-changing regulations that govern healthcare design. Some of what we do can be learned on the job, but applicants must demonstrate some prior knowledge of designing for healthcare, along with a degree in interior design. However, many design programs don’t even include healthcare as a possible track.
Solution: When the recruiting pool is limited, you have to identify your key sources of labor. For example, target colleges that offer the required specialty. Word-of-mouth recruiting can also be effective in a small market in which many people know each other.
Problem: Salaries and Company Cultures Are Highly Competitive
Younger employees are seeking higher wages, and they will continue to do so as the cost of living rises. Company culture also plays a huge role in a candidate’s decision to work for a company (or not). Millennials — who now make up a majority of the workforce — find the combination of a well-paying job and socially fulfilling work especially appealing. They want a little bit of everything, and they are not afraid to ask for it.
Solution: Business leaders need to stay on top of going salary rates in the field by talking to peers and fellow business owners. If you have to shell out more money for that candidate, make sure you find someone who is undoubtedly worth the extra cost and will bring something new to the team.
On the culture side, keep an open, honest, family feel in the office. Create an environment where employees aren’t scared to admit mistakes or seek help for problems they may be facing. At Inner Design Studio, we host fun activities like team-building days, big birthday celebrations, and company trips for bigger occasions, like a company anniversary. You can feel the respect we give each other and the fun environment we have the minute you walk through our doors, which makes our company an attractive place to work.
Problem: Employees Demand Flexible Work
Work/life balance is becoming more valuable to employees, especially those with families. More and more candidates want the option to work remotely at least part of the time, or the freedom to choose their own work hours entirely. These demands can pose challenges in a highly collaborative field like healthcare design. Often, when we’re putting a design on paper, the team will gather around a table and work together on it. That is a lot harder to do when employees have sporadic hours or aren’t in the office at all.
Solution: Video chat and shared workspace technologies, like Google Hangouts and Drive, can help maintain team collaboration, even if everyone isn’t physically present all the time. It is also helpful to bring remote employees into the office every month or so to catch up with colleagues in person and keep everyone on the same page.
Problem: The Profession Is Dominated by One Gender
Many highly specialized fields tend to attract workers of a certain gender. For instance, there is no shortage of bright women who want to be in a design profession. The issue that arises is health insurance costs can be much higher, as many women in the field are in their childbearing years. In a niche market like healthcare design, most firms are smaller businesses that may have trouble keeping up with these costs.
In addition, teams always benefit from more diversity. Employees of different ages, backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities bring different ideas to the table. Even in a niche market, it’s vital to find ways to attract diverse groups of candidates.
Solution: Be careful not to express gender bias when recruiting. Make all ads and applications gender-neutral to leave the position open to anyone. While the key recruitment channels mentioned above are important for zeroing in on great candidates, be careful not to narrow your focus too much. The best candidates might just be the most unexpected ones.
On a related note, we solved our healthcare cost problems by issuing reimbursements for individual health plans rather than offering a company-wide plan. Each employee could find a plan that worked for them, and the company covered a set amount of the price. This approach not only helped us control costs, but it also helped employees get better coverage for themselves. Eventually, we were able to find a company plan that worked for all of us.
Whether you’re filling a niche role or not, recruiting is a two-way street. Employers look for the most qualified and enthusiastic candidates, and candidates look for companies that will meet their social, professional, and financial needs. In a unique specialty like mine, the trick is being inventive enough to get the best candidates in the door.
Rebecca Donner is the founder and principal of Inner Design Studio, a healthcare design services firm based in Nashville, Tennessee.