News & commentary about the global health workforce
Vital Home

No More Business as Usual: Strengthening Health Sector Human Resources Management

This post was originally published on the CapacityPlus blog.CapacityPlus is the IntraHealth-led, USAID-funded global project focused on the health workforce needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

On August 18, I saw these words in front of me:

“The ‘competency of HR workers’ is one of seven ‘major obstacles to building a first-class federal workforce’. [. . .] It's not that the human relations professionals are incompetent. They don't have the training or the technology needed to keep up with a quickly changing workplace.”

I didn’t write these, but I could have. In the recent Washington Post article “Key personnel officials identify obstacles to federal hiring reforms”, I was struck by the similarities between the human resources (HR) situation described and the situation I often find in the health sector in many developing countries, including those where CapacityPlus is active.

Obstacles in the US and Globally

The article, describing recent reforms in federal government hiring, highlights the challenges to realizing these—such as limitations in the competencies, skills level, and technology limitations of existing HR officials. Additionally, it flags the need to overhaul various human resources management (HRM) functions and competencies.

This resonates with the HRM strengthening work in which CapacityPlus is currently engaged. The extent of the global health workforce crisis is widely recognized and there are many positive interventions in place to redress this. However, weakened HRM capacity and systems often result in inefficiencies in the utilization of the workforce, which undermine investments in increasing the number, quality, and availability of trained health workers.

What is HRM?

HRM is all about how people are developed, utilized, supported, and sustained within an organization. Effective and responsive HRM for the health sector requires appropriate systems and functions to be in place to better support health worker recruitment, deployment, retention, and motivation. These facets cannot operate in isolation, and will require a new breed of HR professionals and leaders with the necessary skills, competencies, and strategic orientation to ensure that the essential HRM component of the health system is fit for purpose.

Country-level Approaches: The Way Forward

The business-as-usual approach to HRM in the health sector yields limited results. However, concerted country-led HRM reform will improve planning, utilization, and distribution of the health workforce. The CapacityPlus HRM team is facilitating these reform efforts through transferable, low-cost-high-impact HRM systems strengthening frameworks and tools—including the use of context-specific HR professional development interventions—to mold the HRM leaders and practitioners required to take this work forward at the country level. As part of the CapacityPlus HRM team, I look forward to continuing the work in facilitating these changes.