As I travel around the country, I have the opportunity to see impactful Career and Technical Education (CTE) policies in action. These policies not only assist administrators and teachers in doing great things in the classroom to prepare our youth for meaningful futures, but also engage employers in the preparation of our youth. Last month, we focused on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where the state’s CTE policy, House Bill 4313, has helped Copper Country Intermediate School District collaborate with industry representatives and utilize $5 million in grants to help students develop welding and manufacturing skills. This month, we’re focusing on Douglas County, Oregon, where a $432,000 career-readiness grant awarded by the state will help high school students in 13 school districts prepare for in-demand healthcare jobs right in their own communities.
“One of our goals is to grow our own,” said Analicia Nicholson, Education Services Director of the Douglas Education Service District, the fiscal agent for the grant. “We’ve got incredibly talented kids in Douglas County, and we want to make sure they’re prepared with the skills that will make them successful.”
In Douglas County, that means equipping students with skills they need to succeed in health occupations jobs, which are in high demand across the state. In 2016, only 56% of primary care health professional shortage areas in Oregon had enough physicians to meet demand. What’s more, healthcare occupations jobs throughout the state are projected to grow by 31% by 2020.
“Local demand for health occupations is huge,” said Nicholson. “What’s more, we’ve surveyed our students and found that health occupations courses are one of the leading pathways that kids are interested in… it was a matter of getting our youth access to the knowledge and careers that are available.”
That access will begin when the 2018-2019 school year commences, thanks to funds from the Oregon Department of Education’s Career & Technical Education Revitalization Grant. Starting this fall, the Umpqua Healthcare Pathways Program will offer high school students from 13 school districts in Douglas County a choice between two types of healthcare pathways. One pathway will allow students to complete a Basic Allied Health Certificate while still in high school, an accomplishment that can help them qualify upon graduation for entry-level allied health careers like cardiovascular technicians, ophthalmic medical technicians and medical assistants. The second healthcare pathway is designed to ensure that students who are on a path toward careers that require a more advanced level of education and training, like registered nurses or a physician assistants, have the necessary prerequisites and curriculum to continue successfully.
Randy Hubbard is the Main Surgical Services Manager at Mercy Medical Center, one of 14 industry partners who have collaborated to bring the program to fruition. He is helping coordinate job shadow opportunities at Mercy so students can observe the many career paths a hospital has to offer, like surgical robotics, biomedical electronics and radiology.
“The partnerships we’ve developed between education and industry is going to be hugely beneficial to everybody,” said Hubbard. “In a few years, the kids who will be job shadowing here this fall could be filling those hard-to-fill positions, championing the program and helping draw even more new students in. The long-term benefits of the program are really exciting.”
Umpqua Economic Development Partnership (UEDP) Executive Director Wayne Patterson agrees that recruitment is one of the many benefits of the program. A former private-sector CEO, Patterson has been a key player in the creation of the Umpqua Healthcare Pathways Program. When he joined the UEDP in 2015, he was tasked with developing a new strategic plan for the community. His conversations with education and industry representatives are what helped initiate program plans.
“I asked all the businesses what they needed, and they all had the same answer: workforce,” said Patterson. “Their limitation in growth is not based upon market opportunities; it’s based upon the fact that they’re limited in the workforce they can recruit and maintain.”
Meetings began in early 2017 between representatives of the UEDP, the school districts and local healthcare businesses. The goal was clear: build pipelines from local high schools to employers and technical training, community colleges and other types of community programs to help fill demand for health occupations in the county. The 13 Douglas County school districts applied as a consortium for the grant last summer. Thanks to partnerships between Umpqua Community College (UCC), through which the Basic Allied Health Certificate Program will be offered and which is helping ensure that county high school teachers have the training they need; the UEDP and the Area Health Collaborative, schools that had previously offered health occupations programs and schools that are new to such programs are all preparing to offer these courses to students this fall. Funds from the 18-month grant also support a Career & Technical Education regional coordinator position.
“This year, every single high school in Douglas County will have an allied health certificate program, and every junior or senior can earn up to 18 UCC college credits and earn an allied health certificate while they’re still in high school,” said Patterson. “That puts them in the front of the line for any high school allied health career path for any job in the county… we’re building pipelines to be able to fill this massive workforce demand that we’ve got in Douglas County.”
According to Nicholson, the program would not exist without the state-level CTE policies that support these efforts, plus the three-pronged collaboration that developed between educators, industry leaders and the UEDP as a result.
“What is unique about what we do is that our advisory committee is education and workforce development and industry,” said Nicholson. “We’ve got the educators who know how to teach kids, we’ve got the workforce development who understands the need in the community, and we’ve got industry who are saying what they need – and everyone is connected.”
By Timm Boettcher, President & CEO, Realityworks, Inc.