Staff Your Training Team: Should You Hire FTEs or Contractors?

Chris Cooley, Training Point Advisor

Chris Cooley, Training Point Advisor

Author: Chris Cooley, Training Program Director

So you are building a training team… or maybe you already have one that needs some adjustments or growth. It can be overwhelming. You may or may not have a few stock job descriptions, and/or some HR support to help recruit. You may even have preliminary numbers and an idea or directive on how to staff your team. But then what? Contractors? FTEs?  How many?  How long will it take to get them on board? And how does this decision affect your bottom line and timeline?

You have to start somewhere, so let’s begin with what you will need to consider:  timelines, budget, total number of staff needed, local market, and of course, the right fit…

Timelines: When do you need your team and for how long?
The answer to this question could make your decision for you. If you need a full team (or even just a couple additions to your team) in a matter of days or weeks, then hiring contractors is an easy choice. If you don’t need your team for another year, then it may make more sense to post FTE positions, and go through the process of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training.

But in my experience, it is really never that cut and dry.

A portion of your team will need to be on-boarded early enough to be involved with exploration, build, and writing the training materials. These folks will also be your leads for the trainers brought in a little later.

Trainers will need to be on site early enough to thoroughly train them (and preferably have them job shadow in the role they will be training). You will also want to consider cross training. If you do plan on cross training your trainers to cover multiple roles or areas, you will need to account for the time it takes them to become proficient.

Obviously, you will need your whole team during the actual training period, but what about long term?  How will this training be delivered to new hires? What about remedial training? Do you have resources available to round and assist end users at go-live, or when a new process is released? Does your project have an optimization phase? What kind of staffing will you need through that process versus your long term sustainment model?

Budget: How much do you need and how much do you get?
We have all heard that FTEs are less expensive than contractors. Heck, we’ve heard it because it’s true–that is, if, we are comparing salaries only. What else is there? Time. Time is money (…whoa, that statement should have come with a cliché warning.). How much time and resources will be spent on recruiting, reviewing resumes, and interviewing over the phone and in person up to three times, only to decide a candidate is not a good fit? Think about how much longer you will need to have an FTE on your team before they are up to speed. How much training will they need? What is the cost of that training? And going back to the salary statement, have you considered what that employee costs your company in addition to their salary? Think L&I, benefits, payroll, etc.  Of course, what about the cost of not hiring in a timely manner…there’s an opportunity cost there as well.

Now let’s take all of those costs and look at the life of your project. How long do you need your employees? All of them? Chances are you will have a peak in your need, then your staffing model will likely start to dwindle, as with most projects.

On every project I have worked on, I have had to negotiate for increased staffing numbers. Most of the time I got a bare minimum, and had to stretch every resource just to meet project deadlines and deliver training. It is very easy for someone (insert stiff suit here) crunching numbers to reduce the amount of budget allocated for training. You may as well face it now; training is often one of the largest costs for any project, and therefore will likely always have a target on its back.  So be mindful of potential changes and get your approvals in writing!

Armed with good information, you should feel empowered to build a budget balanced with both FTEs and contractors to meet your needs.

Total number of staff needed: Count carefully!
Count your end users carefully. Who needs to be trained and when? What about your fellow project team? Executives? Other vendors? All of those groups need to count toward your total end user needs. In healthcare we have a large population of travelers and locums–what about them?  Chances are, they are not in that report you received from HR. Your total number of end users will drive your total number of staff needed, so pull up the rugs now before it’s too late, and find those hidden end users that are trying to fall between the cracks.  This is the only way to make sure you get enough trained staff.

With your total number of end users identified, it is time to identify how many rooms you will be training in at any given time as well as the total length of training offered. For example, if I have classes running in 26 classrooms, in four hour blocks, three times a day, I am going to need a minimum of 52 trainers to pull that off. Why can’t you have just 26, you ask, people work 12 hour days all the time?

Well, inquiring mind, I will tell you. When you are teaching a class, you need to allow one hour of prep time and wrap time at the beginning and end of each class. Even if you overlap those hours between classes and schedule 8a-12p, 1p-5p, and 6p-10p, you are still looking at a need from 7am – 11pm, a 17 hour day. There are many ways to configure training rooms and trainers. The point I am trying to make is that the planning matters. It matters BIG TIME.

Have enough rooms to deliver training for the total number of end users identified? Now you are ready to identify how many total staff you need (I am assuming classroom training in this article. Adjust accordingly for eLearning, virtual learning, or mobile learning).

Another thing I hear quite often is the plan to reduce overall numbers by cross training staff to cover multiple roles or applications. I am all for cross training, but in healthcare, especially Epic, I recommend limiting the cross training to no more than three applications (and that is only for someone who has been doing this for a while–don’t let a newbie cross train until they have about six months experience under their belt).

Local market: How the economic climate in your area can drive decisions
Here is my current dilemma. I have an FTE position posted that is now six months old, and I haven’t had anyone come close to meeting our needs as a team. My interim solution: a contractor, of course. But as I watch my budget dwindle quickly, I am secretly (or not so secretly, now) praying for that magic person to apply.

The local market and industry in your area play a gigantic part of how quickly you will be able to fill your FTE positions, what kind of candidates you will get, and how much training they will need to get up to speed.

I actually work in a fairly saturated Epic market. But what does that mean for me? Major competition for quality candidates. So when starting a project, I have to carefully weigh what I realistically will get versus my need. Often, contractors are my choice and the work gets done.

Be aware of the market. Check your local postings, reach out to other training teams in your area and ask their experience posting and hiring.

Right fit: How do I know?
Okay, so you have done all your checks and balances, figured out that you need X number of staff, and you are ready to hire. But how do you know what you need or what qualities your candidates MUST have to be successful? Visit other training teams, network with other training leaders, and ask them what it takes… Or, wait for my upcoming article Hiring for Fit: Why SMEs don’t always make great trainers (or Instructional Designers).

Back to the reason we are here:  Should I hire FTEs or contractors? The simple answer is both. There will always be a push from leadership to staff with FTEs in an attempt to keep costs down and sustain your training model long term. It is your responsibility as a training leader to understand when a contractor is necessary. With the considerations in this article you will be equipped to negotiate and move forward with the staffing model that fits your need.

In closing, I would like to make a plug for partnering with an experienced firm like Greythorn. Greythorn and I have worked together on several projects now, and they helped me reduce my overall budget while increasing the total number of staff on my team. Even if you are just looking for some help posting and recruiting, consult an expert. Learn about their LIVESite Training Practice, or email Chris Kendrick for more information.

Chris Cooley is a LIVESite Advisor for Greythorn, as well as a full-time training manager working on her 13th EMR implementation. With a combined knowledge of adult learning principles, technical writing, project management and the healthcare world, Chris is known for her creative solutions. If you liked this post, check out her first article, What Every EMR Training Manager Wishes They Knew at the Start of Their Project.

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