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Healthcare companies expand education benefit programs amid a severe labor crunch. Also, the view from healthcare education providers in Texas and Florida, and a look at union-backed apprenticeships across industries.

The Job
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A weekly newsletter about the intersection of education and work. By Paul Fain

Attacking labor shortages

Healthcare is among the industries that are struggling most with labor shortages amid the hot job market

Nursing gets the most attention, for good reason. Some hospitals have paid travel nurses up to $10K per week to shore up their ranks. But burnout and retirements have taken a toll on many other healthcare roles, including those that typically do not require four-year degrees, such as medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, and surgical technologists.

Amid the crisis, healthcare companies are getting more creative about recruiting and retaining workers without bachelor’s degrees. Some are ramping up education benefits and covering costs for degrees, certificates, and certifications, to offer upward mobility for employees who want to advance in their careers. 

The Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, for example, is offering training to job seekers before they are hired in allied health roles, as well as free and low-cost education options to employees who want to change career paths.

EdAssist Solutions from Bright Horizons is a large education benefit provider that works with healthcare companies. Its employer partners are making significant new investments in education across four nursing roles and five allied health pathways, for in-demand jobs like respiratory therapist and radiologic technicians.

“Recruiting and talent pipeline development is a major focus,” says Jill Buban, a vice president and general manager with EdAssist. “But equally if not more important are upskilling and career pathway programs that help retain and grow the existing workforce.”

The company is seeing a substantial uptick in employees who are pursuing nursing and health administration degrees, Buban says, as well as increased interest in related certificate programs, like nursing specializations and certified medical assistants.

John Eshleman is director of benefits for Memorial Hermann Health System, a large nonprofit system in southeast Texas. He says Memorial Hermann, an EdAssist client, has expanded its education benefits recently, both as a retention tool and to help workers move into nursing and other high-demand, higher-paying roles in the system.

For example, the system offers student loan repayment to workers and now prepays tuition for education benefit recipients who are pursuing degrees, rather than reimbursing those costs.

The Kicker: “We’re encouraging people from all different backgrounds to work their way up through the organization,” Eshleman says.

A Texas-Sized Shortage of Workers

The demand for allied health workers in Texas is unprecedented, says Eric Bing, chancellor and CEO of the College of Health Care Professions, which has nine locations across the state. The college offers healthcare degrees and certificates in on-campus, online, and blended programs.

Colleges are unable to produce enough graduates in healthcare, he says, in part because it’s hard to hire faculty members away from high-demand fields, particularly when salaries are through the roof. And it takes time to build quality programs.

As a result, Bing says, the Texas-based CHCP and other healthcare programs are “trying to make up the lost ground while demand continues to explode.”

Part of the problem is that while prospective students often know about nursing, they tend to be unaware of in-demand allied health jobs such as radiologic or cardiovascular technicians.

“They simply do not know these careers exist,” says Bing.

Yet more time-strapped adult learners are looking to earn certifications and short-term credentials rather than bachelor’s degrees, he says. And allied health programs can be a good fit for those students.

I talked with Bing about how the labor market is affecting student demand in healthcare, as well as how to encourage stackability and transfer-credit acceptance for entry-level healthcare credentials across higher education. Click over to Work Shift to read the exchange.

‘Breakdowns in the Workforce Pipeline’

The California-based Futuro Health is an unusual experiment designed to create low-cost education on-ramps in healthcare.

Created in 2020, the nonprofit training hub offers 19 nondegree courses and credentials in allied health fields through its 65 partner colleges and campuses. Tuition is free across the programs, with a few exceptions. Students have some small costs, such as a $100 registration fee.

Futuro’s goal is to graduate 10K students by 2024. It was on track to enroll more than 5K by the end of last year. I recently checked in with Van Ton-Quinlivan, Futuro’s CEO, to hear where the work stood.

“We’re going to hit 8,265 students this year,” she said, which is well ahead of schedule. “We’re getting adults back into higher education.”

The average age of students enrolled in Futuro’s programs is 30. Almost three quarters (73%) are women, 80 percent are from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and fully half are bilingual.

To help students get a sense of what’s possible in healthcare, and what the jobs are like, Futuro offers an eight-week introductory online course. The “human touch healthcare” course is designed to help students build confidence before they make decisions about where to specialize as their programs fork off into different professions.

Futuro has developed deeper collaborations with California’s public community college and university systems, including through a statewide network that received $10M in federal funding to develop credentials for public health IT jobs.

Likewise, last month it announced a new partnership with Dignity Health Global Education to create more tuition-free entry points into nursing, including by drawing from other health occupations. DHGE’s nursing residency reaches 45K nurses across 21 states.

“The nursing shortage is so acute,” Ton-Quinlivan says. “You have to look where there are breakdowns in the workforce pipeline.”

Union-Backed Apprenticeships

Futuro Health’s initial funding was a $130M commitment from Kaiser Permanente and the SEIU–United Healthcare Workers West. Eligible union members can get no-cost education and training at Futuro and elsewhere through a joint education fund from 20 healthcare employers and six unions.

In healthcare and beyond, unions in recent years have been critical players in expanding and diversifying opportunities for working learners, including through apprenticeships. As George Lorenzo writes this week for Work Shift:

As major federal investments like the American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure law, and now the CHIPS and Science Act start to create millions of new jobs, the country’s unions are at the forefront of efforts to build up the workforce to meet that demand. It’s a position that they, arguably, haven’t been in since the 1950s—when they led a post–World War II training spree needed to fill all the new roles being created in manufacturing and construction.

  • Of the 50 largest registered apprenticeships, more than half are run by unions, according to a Work Shift analysis of federal data.
  • And states like California see unions as a crucial partner as they look to dramatically expand registered apprenticeships as a way to fill in-demand jobs.

The focus is not only on growing the number of apprentices—but on diversifying both the industries and the people they serve. 

Dan Marschall, a professor at George Washington University and former executive director of the AFL-CIO Working for America Institute, calls the moment a revival for union apprenticeships.

“Baby boomers started to retire, and they had no pipeline for getting new workers,” he tells Lorenzo. “So, there has been a huge upswing of interest in training, coupled with a desire to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Read the full story at Work Shift. Lorenzo writes Workforce Monitor, a newsletter on workforce development and education.

As apprenticeships take off, unions are in the driver’s seat
As apprenticeships take off, unions are in the driver’s seat The country’s unions are at the forefront of efforts to build up the workforce to meet demand in construction, manufacturing, and other high-need industries.

A Texas-sized shortage of healthcare workers
A Texas-sized shortage of healthcare workers Work Shift talks with Eric Bing, chancellor of the College of Health Care Professions in Texas, about how institutions and policymakers can help meet the huge need for healthcare workers.

Open Tabs

Worker Shortages

Economists say fixing the imbalance in labor supply and demand is at the heart of the nation’s current economic challenges, according to The Wall Street Journal. Job market participation rates remain the most depressed among Americans with a high school diploma but no college, one expert said, noting that unskilled workers have been much more reluctant to enter the labor force than expected.

Nondegree Credentials

Manufacturing workers who earn an industry credential on average earn $2K more annually and are more likely to be employed than those who did not earn a credential, according to a recent paper by researchers at the U.S. Census Bureau. (An early look at the data was released last year.) Most racial and ethnic groups saw increases in wages and employment in manufacturing after earning a credential. But the researchers found gaps across both racial and gender lines.

College ROI

States’ unemployment insurance data often understates the payoff for degrees because it cannot track college graduates across state lines, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research. The analysis found that out-of-state migration made it particularly problematic to assess the wages of high earners, flagship public university graduates, and those with certain majors. 

Degree Requirements

A court has upheld a D.C. requirement that many of the city’s childcare workers hold a college degree, reports Sara Weissman for Inside Higher Ed. The 2016 rule requires workers at daycare centers and home-based childcare businesses of a certain size to hold an associate degree in early childhood education or a related field. Workers with degrees in other fields must earn at least 24 relevant credits. 

Wealth Gap

Far more white adults (38%) say they’ve gotten at least $10K in gifts or loans from a parent or older relative compared to Black adults (14%) or Latinos (16%), reports National Public Radio. A large number of Black, Latino, and Native American adults expect their children to go to college but don’t have the money to pay for it. And the racial wealth gap seriously depletes the savings of college-educated Black Americans.

Job Moves

Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield is joining Higher Learning Advocates as the bipartisan nonprofit group’s managing director of policy and research. After her 15-year tenure at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Duke-Benfield was senior director of policy and advocacy at Temple University’s Hope Center.

Wesley Whistle has rejoined New America as the policy director of the think tank’s higher education program. Whistle was a legislative assistant and principal education advisor to Senator Bob Casey, the Pennsylvania Democrat, after a previous stint at New America as senior advisor on higher education policy.

Nuno Fernandes will be the American Public University System’s next president. Fernandes is president and CEO of Ilumno, Latin America’s largest online program management company, which is particularly established in Colombia, Argentina, and Chile, among others. The online APUS is a subsidiary of American Public Education Inc.

Mark Milliron will be National University’s next president and CEO. Milliron is senior vice president and executive dean of Western Governors University’s education school and Civitas Learning’s co-founder and former chief learning officer. The nonprofit and online-focused National recently acquired Northcentral University.

I was fortunate to have the time and money to hit the road during the last week to help a family member after a medical procedure. After a year on the job, most U.S. workers get about 10 paid vacation days per year. Only 21% of workers get paid family leave, with 40% having access to paid medical leave. Thanks for reading. —@paulfain

A veteran higher education journalist and analyst, Paul focuses on the connections between education and the American workforce.