A New Breed for a Changing Landscape

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By Todd Saucier, CO(c), RTPO

Editor's Note: As new graduates enter the O&P industry, they bring with them a very different life and career outlook than those entering the workforce 20-30 years ago. Todd Saucier provides his perspective on how business leaders can reach out and retain these workers as well as his advice to those entering the field.

The orthotic and prosthetic landscape is changing. As I read in your January 2007 issue about the need for statistical information in O&P and the number of practitioners in the field compared to the number of practitioners needed, I began thinking about what lies ahead for us.

A new generation of worker is entering O&P practices. The young people of today are very different. They've grown up in a world with search engines and cell phones, and are entering a much more global and culturally diverse workplace. Their expectation of what their work environment should be like is very different than my expectations more than 20 years ago. For them loyalty, in particular, takes on a different meaning. Unless they own their own company, they're not loyal to the company they work for, but they're very loyal to their colleagues and friends. These people are clear about having a work/life balance. If you don't believe me, ask a new certifee to work on that TLSO tonight and have it supplied tomorrow morning or the same night. The look of "Are you kidding?" will tell the story.

In my first job, when I saw something I didn't like, I would say, "How can we fix that?" Young people today don't do that. They tend to say, "There are opportunities elsewhere," and off they go. I do think it's possible, though, to retain the loyalty of this new breed of workers. The key lies in understanding this young workforce and their motivations.

Young People Are Communicators

The most common mistake business leaders make with their workforce is they do not communicate clearly enough. If you talk to young people today, you find that they constantly communicate. They have cell phones, instant messenger, e-mail, etc. So good business leaders will be able to communicate, be visible to employees, and understand how their employees are working as well as recognize their individual goals.

Inspiring through a Shared Vision

A great business leader is decisive and inspires a shared sense of vision in people. When you have a clearly communicated vision that you keep coming back to, and you hit a bump in the road, people understand it's just a bump in the road. But if you don't have a clear vision and you hit a bump in the road, people tend to scatter and say the sky is falling. To me, a great leader communicates with people and lets them know both your progress and theirs. People like to know where they're going.

Employees Have Responsibilities, Too

Not all responsibility lies at the feet of the employer, however. There are a few things that people entering this field need to understand as well. We all want to make a living, but a commitment to the people we treat is of utmost importance. Waking up in the morning and really wanting to do the work because you have passion for it is key to a fruitful career. Too often I see and hear of new orthotists or prosthetists with only basic schooling asking for top dollar for their work. Why? In any other field, only experienced, knowledgeable workers who understand the work receive top dollar. A friend once told me that receiving your certification is not the only goal. How true that is! Giving people real solutions to their problems is the goal. And the only way to truly understand this is through experience.

Employers who know this will say, "There are orthotists and there are orthotists." This means that those who have the ability to work a case from casting to fitting have a distinctive quality separating top employees from average. Simply showing up with ticket in hand is not enough. Ask anyone with more than ten years of experience, and they will tell you how funny it is thinking back on what they used to do in a given situation compared to how they would handle it now.

New certifees might be reading this and thinking, "So what? I need what I need." But just remember, some of you might be employers yourselves one day. Then loyalty will take on new meaning for you.

Todd Saucier is a clinical orthotist at Palliser Orthotic Prosthetic Clinic Ltd. in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.