The Stoltenberg Junior Consultant Program: A Win-Win

The ability to recruit and retain information technology talent has turned into a bear of a problem for healthcare organizations across the country. In fact, for the second year in a row, staffing has been cited as the key barrier to being able to implement information technology by respondents who participated in the 24th Annual HIMSS Leadership Survey, which was released in March of 2013.

Fortunately, Sheri Stoltenberg has made a career out of taming such industry beasts. As CEO of Stoltenberg Consulting, Bethel Park, Pa., she spends her time coming up with innovative ways to help healthcare organizations find solutions to seemingly insurmountable challenges.

“I want to solve problems and challenges in the industry,” she says, while explaining what has made her consulting company thrive over the past 18 years.

For example, a couple of years ago she launched Stoltenberg’s Junior Consultant Program, a creative initiative designed to help solve the staffing problems that so many organizations are struggling with. Through this unique program, Stoltenberg brings on board college graduates and puts them through an intensive training program that covers vendor software systems and workflow processes in health care. She then pairs them with a senior consultant on a job site to continue their training.

“New college graduates lack job experience, but they understand technology,” says Stoltenberg. “They are the generation that grew up with technology. It’s intuitive to them.”

Stoltenberg’s clients love the junior consultant program because they save money and develop talent at the same time. Junior consultants cost the client 35 percent less than a senior consultant, and they contribute right away. They sign a 12-month contract with the client, and the client has the option of hiring them after that period.

The program also is proving popular among college graduates. At Ohio Northern University (ONU), a school where the program is particularly active, Stoltenberg has hired nine graduates in the past two years and turned them into junior consultants.

The program, for example, has served as a great career launching pad for Nicole Fleischman, a 2011 ONU graduate. Fleischman is contracted at the University of Rochester (NY) Medical Center working with a team on ambulatory electronic medical records.

“It has always been my dream to work in the health care industry. Since joining the health care IT field, I’ve grown in so many ways, and I love what I do,” Fleishman says.

In addition to the Junior Consultant program, Stoltenberg has also helped spark interest in healthcare IT by participating in senior capstone projects at ONU.  These projects are meant to serve as the culmination of the college experience by requiring students to integrate much of what they have learned in various disciplines in one project. 

Stoltenberg challenged students by providing them with the opportunity to apply their ivory tower knowledge to an actual real-world business problem.  She specifically asked the seniors to come up with practical plans for the firm’s future growth potential. Four student teams, with about five members each, dove in and got to work on the challenge. 

“I thought this would be a great way to get a fresh perspective on what we can do to bring even greater success to our consulting company,” Stoltenberg says. “At the same time, the project made it possible for these great young minds to see how much opportunity there is in the healthcare IT industry. And, I thought that would help bring much needed talent into this industry that I really love.”

After submitting an interim report, the student teams finalized their proposals and participated in  face-to-face presentations with Stoltenberg and other managers from the firm. Students had fifteen to eighteen minutes to present their proposals with the balance of thirty minutes for questions.

"Stoltenberg gave our students a fantastic opportunity to deal with real business problems and gain experience realizing that they will be held accountable for what they learned and recommended by reporting directly back to a real business and CEO,” says Robert Kleine, associate dean and professor of marketing of the ONU James F. Dicke College of Business Administration. “The projects gave the students a keener expectation of the complexities of today's business problems and solutions, while showing that businesses like Stoltenberg want to take an active role in growing future business leaders."