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HomemifeatureGraduate Onboarding: Securing a Diverse Talent Pool

Graduate Onboarding: Securing a Diverse Talent Pool

Attracting graduates to your practice is one thing, but how do you build a diverse talent pool that reflects your patient community and, how do you successfully onboard them to keep them in place?

Kusal Panditharatne was coming to the end of his studies when he noticed an ad for an optometry graduate on the noticeboard at the University of Melbourne.

A big problem for any new graduate is not knowing what is expected of them, or not feeling supported, so I believe a formalised six or 12-month mentoring program is important

Kusal Panditharatne and his colleague, Mei Ou.

The ad had been placed by Eyes & Optics, a ProVision practice in the seaside town of Wonthaggi, approximately 130 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. It was far enough to be removed from the city, but close enough to catch up with friends and family on a regular basis.

“I had been asking my lecturers about going regional or rural, and when I asked them about the advertising practice owner, Malcolm Gin, they told me he was a great mentor for new grads. I sent him an email asking if I could come down and have a look at the practice.”

Timing is everything. It was the last day for applications and Mr Gin called Mr Panditharatne immediately and gave him a video tour of the practice.

“Straight away I could see that this was going to be a great place to work,” Mr Panditharatne recalled.

Nine months down the track he says it’s already been a great experience. “I can’t see starting off my graduate career anywhere else – it’s a very supportive, great team.”

Interestingly, when Mr Gin posted his graduate position on the University of Melbourne noticeboard, he was looking for just one optometrist. He ended up employing two.

“We couldn’t choose between two applicants who had amazing references from people I knew in the profession. Having just lost someone on the front desk, I told them we’d have work for them both if they were prepared to fill that vacant position between them, and they jumped at the chance.”

While working front-of-house may not sound too appealing to many grads, Mr Panditharatne says it has been a valuable part of his learning experience.

“Working across the practice is really rewarding – I cut the lenses, fit them to the spectacles and hand over the final product, then I watch the reaction when the patient puts their new glasses on – I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was stuck in the consulting room.”

SHARING SKILLS, ACQUIRING EXPERIENCE

As a graduate, Mr Panditharatne says he is already looking ahead to a time when he can own his own practice.

This is something Mr Gin hopes all the graduate optometrists he takes on will achieve.

“I anticipate that the grads will be here for two years before moving on to other successful independent practices and eventually setting out on their own.”

To help them along the way, Mr Gin says he often promotes his grads to other practices at the end of their two-year stint at Eyes & Optics. “I often hear about jobs coming up that aren’t advertised – so by making introductions, I help my colleagues find the best people and I help my grads acquire varied experience. This is important because there are so many facets to the profession.

“I’m staunchly independent, we want to have good people and we want to demonstrate how independent optometry can be a very rewarding career.”

With one exception, Mr Gin has only ever employed optometrists fresh out of university.

“We’re looking for people who are teachable, and grads are great because they are enthusiastic, their knowledge is up-to-date and they don’t want to make a mistake. Those who adopt the ethos of the practice, and are good with working in with other staff, fit in.”

The needs of graduates are met via weekly staff gatherings, occasional one-on-one meetings, and practice managers who have their ear to the ground, providing mentoring and development opportunities.

“We also do a lot of co-management, which provides opportunities for graduates to sit in with, and learn from, ophthalmology specialists.”

MENTORING

Taking on a graduate is a huge responsibility. As Lily Wegrzynowski, General Manager Eyecare and Professional Services at EyeQ says, a person’s ‘first job’ is their first job and doesn’t necessarily mean it is their ‘forever job’. However, their first optometry role is vitally important in shaping the rest of their career in terms of how they practice optometry and the communication skills they acquire.

While some may quake at the thought of taking this task on, Phil Fent, founder of Optometrist Business Brokers, says the process can be as simple or complicated as you like, as long as you’re clear with your expectations.

“A big problem for any new graduate is not knowing what is expected of them, or not feeling supported, so I believe a formalised six or 12-month mentoring program is important and will help contribute to graduate retention.

“Don’t assume any knowledge. Before they start, every graduate needs to be informed of everything from the most basic requirements – like their work hours and breaks – through to the administrative processes required to register for AHPRA, Medicare and DVA, how to join Optometry Australia, and the requirements for adequate professional indemnity insurance.

“They also need to understand the overall goals of your practice, the key performance indicators you’ll measure them by, and your behavioural expectations.

“Practice owners don’t often think about building a formal policy around values, branding, culture or the employer/employee relationship – but even a small independent practice needs to give thought to these aspects of the business. It’s something that is automatically done and regularly renewed in large organisations. Doing so enables the team to work cohesively and provides operational guidance in the event something goes wrong.”

Before you take on any new members – regardless of whether they are graduates or have extensive experience – Mr Fent says it’s important to sit down with your team to discuss the culture, how you can work together to build the practice and where the new person fits into that process.

“You won’t get buy in unless people feel they have been heard,” he said.

CORPORATE MODELS

With over 430 stores across Australia and New Zealand, Luxottica has developed a structured two-year Graduate Development Pathway, which Elizabeth Kodari, Eyecare Operations Director, says is designed to ensure new optometry graduates are provided with the support they need, and set up for success in their early career.

“A graduate career with us starts off at our two-day graduate induction event called EyeLaunch, which covers a range of topics to give our graduates the information and tools to be successful in their role, and involves numerous team building activities to connect graduates with their colleagues.

“Following on from EyeLaunch, we have a robust learning framework which details the graduate learning objectives at each milestone in the two-year timeline. All our graduates start on one-hour appointments to allow them time to settle in and become the practitioner they aspire to be. Continuous support and feedback will be provided by an optometry mentor to consolidate the graduate’s growth and development.”

Graduates receive professional guidance from a dedicated team including Professional Services Managers, and Area Eyecare Managers, and are provided with opportunities for in-person networking, and to attend CPD events throughout the year, where graduates can engage with local allied health professionals and connect with their peers.

Access to a range of CPD modules, through Luxottica’s online Leonardo learning platform, along with LEDA scholarships to financially support further studies in an area of interest, encourages graduates to further their professional education.

“Last but not least, we help to build a graduate’s profile as an optometrist in the community. We can leverage their profile through health practitioner platforms and support their engagement with allied health professionals by providing tools such as our collaborative care packs. Our graduates can also take part in something bigger through our local vision screening clinics and OneSight EssilorLuxottica Foundation outreach program,” Ms Kodari said.

Similarly, Specsavers supports its graduates with a formalised two-year development program and a dedicated, trained in-store mentor who tailors their approach to enhance the individual’s personal and professional development.

“To complement their in-store experience, the program offers a combination of professional events, courses and experiences specifically designed to help achieve expertise,” explained Sophie Stephan, Specsavers Head of Graduate Optometry ANZ.

For independent practices – or groups that don’t take on a lot of graduates, like George & Matilda Eyecare (G&M) – a less formal mentoring program can still be highly successful.

“At G&M our graduate plans are more customised to the strengths and opportunities of the individual, and a lot of our training and development is on the floor, learning from some of the best optometrists in the industry,” explained Heather Campbell, Human Resources Manager for G&M. “We connect our graduates with optometrists who can engage them in their areas of interest and work directly on their opportunities – it’s not a cookie cutter approach, each grad is presented with opportunities that support their individual needs.

“A big part of the success in graduate onboarding comes down to recruiting the right people to start with. This means targeting graduates who have a balanced understanding of the clinical and the commercial, then onboarding them with your best mentors who lead by example, having care for their patients while running successful practices.”

ACHIEVING DIVERSITY

The gender split among optometrists has changed considerably over the past 15 years, with almost 60% of the optometry sector today made up of women.

Professor Lisa Keay, Head of the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of New South Wales, acknowledges the gender split is skewed right from the start of the optometry program at university.

“We have more female than male students and I can only speculate on why that is. Entry into our programs is highly competitive and the higher proportion of females might reflect high levels of achievement amongst female high school leavers, and strong interest in optometry as a career.”

In October 2018, Specsavers commissioned a Deloitte Access Economics report into the future of the optometric workforce in Australia through until 2037. The report modelled both the supply of, and demand for, optometric services over the coming two decades to identify whether the supply of optometrists was likely to exceed or fall short of demand, and if the latter, to examine barriers and facilitators to boosting the number of individuals practising optometry.

Ms Stephan said the report predicted a shortfall in optometrists, which can in part, be explained by the continued feminisation of the workforce, with female optometrists expected to grow from 55.1% of the workforce in 2018 to 65.5% by 2037.

“While having so many females in a workforce has many benefits, the continued shift will likely constrain the potential supply of clinical hours over time as, on average in 2016, female optometrists worked 6.7 hours per week less than male optometrists due to many reasons,” she explained.

This growing number of women in optometry is not necessarily translating to career progression, as Ms Wegrzynowski points out.

“One outcome of the increasing feminisation of the profession that is not unique to optometry, is that women tend to wait until they are 110% ready to go for a promotion or open a business. Men do it at less than 80%. As a consequence, there may be fewer independent practice owners in the future. Women need support and coaching to realise everything doesn’t have to be perfect to make a leap of this nature.

“This gender imbalance is mirrored in other professions, particularly in healthcare. Any plans to redress this would need to occur at the school level, with career advisors, as well as the profession advocating the multiple choices available for an optometry career. Whether it be working as a part- or full-time employee, or owning your own practice, along with careers that are outside the optometry room but still in the profession,” said Ms Wegrzynowski.

But it’s not only widening gender issues that the profession needs to consider as it prepares for the future. Ms Wegrzynowski says, “Diversity is crucial as it creates better understanding and empathy for others.

“Sometimes people only think of diversity in terms of gender but there are many diversity categories such as ethnicity, age, religious, sexual orientation, disability. You don’t build a team by ticking diversity boxes but it’s important not to let bias inform hiring decisions. One of the most common hiring biases is that of similarity bias, hiring someone similar to yourself. How we overcome this is by training our teams to look at who has the best skills, knowledge and experience for a role and to be conscious of any unconscious bias they may have.”

Specsavers is also working hard to ensure its store teams reflect the communities they support.

“We have a multi-faceted Inclusion and Belonging strategy, with recent focusses including establishing team member led networks and communities across Specsavers, challenging unconscious bias through professional development training and a commitment to support more flexible working arrangements,” said Ms Stephan.

“As a part of the team-member led networks, one is called PRISM which empowers LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning Intersex, Asexual) professionals in stores and support offices to bring their full self to work through creating a positive and supportive working environment and ensuring the unique voice of LGBTQIA+ colleagues and their allies across the business is heard,” she added.

Ms Stephan concluded, “As an industry, it is our responsibility to ensure that we support both our workforce and our patients by ensuring there are enough optometrists for the growing number of people requiring optometric services, while also working toward solutions that make the optometric profession more suitable for the needs of its workforce.”