By Damareus Barbour

National Apprenticeship Week is Nov. 2–8. During the week, the AHA’s Workforce Center observes that apprenticeships are no longer reserved for fields such as construction and other skilled trade jobs. Today, hospitals across the nation are taking advantage of improved productivity, standardized training and reduced turnover associated with the implementation of registered apprenticeships.

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) ApprenticeshipUSA system, a recent rebranding of their registered apprenticeship program, is a network of more than 150,000 employers in more than 1,000 occupations. The average starting salary for an apprenticeship graduate is more than $50,000, and apprentices will earn an average of $300,000 more over their lifetime than their non-apprentice peers, according to DOL.

“While 75 years ago the apprenticeship system began in construction and other skilled trades, today there are apprenticeships in multiple industries, including careers in health care, IT, energy and more,” said Laura Ginsburg, a team leader in DOL’s Office of Apprenticeship. “The goal of the National Apprenticeship Week is to educate businesses and leaders about the importance and viability of apprenticeship programs. These programs can lead to great jobs that also help positively impact our economy.”

The transitions occurring in the health care workforce encourages an environment for health care leaders to spur innovation and creativity. Shortages of physicians, nurses, behavioral health clinicians and other health care occupations will require hospitals and health systems to innovate their recruitment and retention plans in the industry. Some hospitals are using apprenticeship programs to build generational greatness in health care career pathways.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which serves residents in New Hampshire and Vermont, is using registered apprenticeship as a long-term, strategic planning tool to build its workforce. It has designed apprenticeship programs that help the under and unemployed re-skill and return to work in new careers. The health system also is partnering with students and educators at two- and four-year colleges and local high schools to begin fostering career paths that will grow the workforce through apprenticeship. Currently, Dartmouth-Hitchcock offers apprenticeship programs for medical assistants, pharmacy techs, phlebotomists and medical coders.

New Hampshire has one of the nation's oldest populations, with an average age of 41.5, as compared to the national average of 37.3.  Residents over the age of 65 will account for more than 20% of the state’s population by 2020, and state experts anticipate a corresponding increase on demand for health care services by nearly 30% over the next 10 years.  Couple these facts with the significantly rural population ensuring an adequate health care workforce is critical.

Sarah Currier, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s director of workforce development, realizes the benefits apprenticeships can play in addressing the state and regional challenges to create a sustainable health system.

“Registered apprenticeship is the model for building a workforce in rural environments for health care,” said Currier. “Building career pathways in an earn-and-learn training model not only benefits hospitals, but can also better the life of an 18-year-old who might be unsure or unable to attend college. These teens and young adults can come into our hospital as an unskilled worker and take advantage of the opportunity to learn on the job, earn a paycheck and continue their education toward a higher paying job in the field through apprenticeship.”

Despite the uncertainty of apprenticeships fitting into health care, MaineGeneral Medical Center has shown that with support from human resources in collaboration with nursing departments, apprenticeship programs in nursing are a viable option to retool and further train the current nursing workforce. Their program currently trains 72 apprentices in frontline nurse leadership, emergency room and critical care nursing. Twenty-two apprentices completed their programming during apprenticeship week.

“Findings have shown that our nurses demonstrate high competency levels being in the apprenticeship training programs,” said Jennifer Boynton, MaineGeneral’s coordinator for staffing and resource management. “The apprenticeship program assists us in preparing our nurses to be highly qualified by having a solid plan to include both education and on-the-job training. The apprenticeship model supports this, and is especially important for getting our new nurses into specialty care areas burdened with shortages and vacancies.”

Further benefits of the DOL-registered apprenticeships come in the form of hospital reimbursements, according to Boynton. Although MaineGeneral completely pays the apprentices salaries, DOL reimburses the center for a portion of the education expenses.

“We want our nurses to be trained and educated at a level where we can provide our community the highest level of quality care possible,” she says. “With the Department of Labor we are able to create programs to include all needed education that otherwise we may not be able to have.” 

Agnesian HealthCare in Fond du Lac, Wis., began an apprenticeship program 12 years ago in collaboration with The Fond du Lac Area Association of Commerce and local high schools. Originally funded through Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development’s Fast Forward – Blue Print for Prosperity initiative, the program started with four high school juniors gaining skills training and industry recognized certifications as certified nursing assistants (CNAs). Paid internships are made available in Agnesian’s acute hospital and affiliated long-term care facility while CNA curriculum from local Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC) helps students achieve college credits and stackable credentials for career advancement.

Mary Sue Land, a clinical educator at Agnesian HealthCare and member of MPTC’s adjunct faculty, said the program gives high school students unrivaled growth and training experiences.

“We have at max six students, which allows us to really give them individualized attention, the use of our clinical sites for their student rotations and awesome hands on care,” she said.

Agnesian HealthCare’s apprenticeship program has not only increased apprenticeship numbers, but also the rotations offered. The two-year program now offers students rotations in medical imaging, pharmacy, physical therapy, medical records and phlebotomy after completing one year as CNAs. The connection fostered with high school students within the apprenticeship pays dividends down the road. More than 20 apprentices have stayed on or returned to the health system after going on to earn further education and experience.

“In addition to the unique training, the project gives employers a voice in the training design and offers a pipeline of skilled healthcare professionals,” said Agnesian HealthCare President and CEO Steve Little. “We rely on this program heavily to recruit and retain the appropriate professional clinical staff so that we can deliver simply the best care.”

Barbour is an AHA Workforce Center specialist. To learn more about registered apprenticeships or to share your own apprenticeship successes, click here or email workforce@aha.org.