Building A Skilled Healthcare Workforce


Welcome and Introductions

Deborah Povich, Executive Director, Job Opportunities Task Force
Diane Bell, Board Member, Job Opportunities Task Force

National Healthcare Training Models for Incumbent and Entry - Panelists:

Cheryl Feldman, Director, 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund in Philadelphia

Mary Rosenthal, Director, East Metro Health Careers Institute in St. Paul
View PowerPoint presentation on East Metro Health Careers Institute.

Sarah Griffen, Director, Boston Healthcare and Training Institute
Maryland's Healthcare Workforce Initiatives - Panelists:

Karen Sitnick, Mayor's Office of Employment Development
View PowerPoint presentation on Skills Based Training Promotion (STEP) program.

Jo-Ann Williams, University of Maryland Medical System

David Fontaine, Governor's Workforce Investment Board
View PowerPoint presentation on: A Demand-Driven Catalyst for Workforce Development: Maryland’s Healthcare Coordinated Approach.  

Baltimore Healthcare Coalition Action Plan - Panelists:

Patrice Cromwell, Open Society Institute-Baltimore

Pamela Paulk, Johns Hopkins Health System

Catherine Crowley, Maryland Hospital Association

Phyllis Snyder, CAEL-Philadelphia
View PowerPoint presentation: Recommendations for Building a Healthcare Career Pipeline in Baltimore.


Keynote Speaker: Robert Giloth, Director, Family Economic Success, Annie E. Casey Foundation

By Tom Waldron

Momentum is growing behind efforts to build a skilled healthcare workforce in Baltimore, efforts that promise to help both low-wage workers and hospitals and other employers.

That momentum was evident during a March 2, 2004, conference in Baltimore that brought together more than a hundred people with a stake in the issue – including representatives from hospitals, unions, advocacy groups, community colleges, foundations and community groups.

Organized by the Job Opportunities Task Force (JOTF) and supported by grants from the Abell Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Open Society Institute–Baltimore and the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, the conference sought to examine key issues surrounding healthcare workforce development by looking at results of similar efforts taking place both outside Baltimore and within the city.

“With the input from the conference participants, we should be able to take the Baltimore Healthcare Coalition’s efforts to the next level,” said Deborah Povich, executive director of the JOTF. “We have an opportunity to meet employers’ needs by targeting job-training efforts to create healthcare career-ladders for incumbent workers and job-seekers in the city.”

An analysis of the Baltimore region’s economy has pinpointed healthcare as an industry sorely in need of workforce development. That group, known as the Baltimore Healthcare Coalition, has more than 60 members and has been meeting for almost a year to consider new approaches to attracting and training healthcare workers.

Attendees at the conference heard from leaders of workforce programs in Philadelphia, Boston and St. Paul, Minnesota – reports that outlined program successes and sketched out challenges that the Baltimore effort can expect.

Representatives of a Maryland state worker training program known as STEP also reported on the positive gains the program has produced, both for low-wage hospital workers and for their employers looking to find trained employees for hard-to-fill jobs. Participants in the conference also took part in small-group discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of various programs described during the day, assessments that will be used by the Healthcare Coalition as it continues its work.

“There’s a lot of momentum coming together to develop a coordinated plan to meet these workforce needs,” said Patrice Cromwell, associate director of OSI–Baltimore. “There are real opportunities for collaboration and this conference was a great opportunity to connect the various people and institutions that will be involved.”
The conference was highlighted by reports from the directors of three workforce programs that focus on the healthcare field.

Cheryl Feldman, director of the Local 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund in Philadelphia, outlined the operations of a program that has been in existence for 30 years. After modest beginnings, the program served more than 17,300 people last year – with literacy classes, training, assessments, placement help or tuition reimbursements. The Fund is financed in part by contributions from 59 employers, with each putting in 1.5 percent of their gross annual payrolls. That collective approach has been crucial, Feldman said. “By pooling the funds of employers, we can make the whole bigger than the pieces,” she sad. Feldman stressed that the Fund has two sets of customers – employees and employers. “We’re very, very intent on addressing the workforce and recruitment needs of employers. It’s a win-win situation.”

Feldman noted that a key to the Fund’s success has been being able to schedule services, including classes, at times that are convenient to workers; it operates from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

A second speaker, Mary Rosenthal, director of East Metro Health Careers Institute in St. Paul, also echoed the importance of a flexible schedule of services. Her organization is a collaborative effort of four St. Paul hospitals and two community colleges to build healthcare career ladders that will lead to stronger skills and better pay for low-wage workers.

The Institute, which was launched in 2001, has placed 156 of its graduates in jobs, with an average increase in pay ranging from 20 percent to 55 percent, depending on the job category. Among the challenges facing the Institute is being able to accurately project which kinds of jobs will be vacant at the member hospitals. Securing funding has also been a problem, Rosenthal said, in part because some funders want quick “proof” that the program is working.

“You can’t get that kind of proof in two or three years,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a much longer commitment needed.”
The third speaker, Sarah Griffen, director of the Boston Healthcare and Training Institute, described that organization’s success providing training, education and support services for workers with 11 employers in healthcare and research.

The Institute’s collaborative work is paying off for employers, she said. “They are seeing the benefit of the program and know this is a worthwhile effort,” Griffen said.

She stressed the importance of establishing good communication with employers, and not just with their top-level executives. Support from mid-level supervisors at healthcare institutions is crucial as well, as they deal directly with employees and have to approve, for example, leave time for workers to take classes or attend training sessions.

Like her counterparts in Philadelphia and St. Paul, Griffen noted the dire need for basic skills and education of many low-wage workers in the field. “Almost to a person, supervisors say their employees lack basic foundation skills,” Griffen said.

While Baltimore does not yet have a large-scale, collaborative workforce development initiative for healthcare workers, some city employers and workers have benefited from the Skills-Based Training for Employment Promotion (or STEP) program. Under the program, local grant recipients team with employers in selected fields to provide training for certain job categories. The cost is shared: the state-funded STEP program pays for the actual training while the employer pays the wages of workers being trained. However, no funding was allocated for STEP in this year’s state budget.

Jo-Ann Williams, human resources manager for the University of Maryland Medical System, said STEP has helped the hospital address pressing workforce needs. And giving low-wage workers an avenue for advancement to jobs with higher pay and better career opportunities has improved morale, she said.

“People are feeling good about the place they work,” Williams said. “It’s just been a wonderful experience.”
Projections show that the need to recruit and train healthcare workers in Baltimore and Maryland will continue to grow in coming years. Pamela Paulk, vice president for human resources at Johns Hopkins Health System, said that Maryland’s hospitals will create roughly 1,000 new openings a year in seven “hot” job categories that require an associate’s degree or less, including nurse extenders and surgical technicians.

Catherine Crowley, vice president of the Maryland Hospital Association, said solving the staffing problems collectively will require new thinking on the part of employers.

“For at least 15 years, the hospitals in Maryland have been committed to the concept of ‘grow your own’ employees,” Crowley said.

Keynote speaker Robert Giloth saluted the conferees for exploring new approaches. Giloth, director of Family Economic Success at the Casey Foundation, has written extensively about workforce development, particularly the involvement of “workforce intermediaries,” a broad term describing various kinds of organizations and collaborations involved in job-training, recruitment and career-advancement activities. Researchers and policy-makers associated with a recent American Assembly dialogue on workforce intermediaries are studying such organizations, looking at how they work well – and why. Among the findings: such organizations should have multiple funding sources and should be collaborative efforts among various partner groups.

“You need to be entrepreneurial and flexible,” Giloth added. “This is not a one-time design. It needs to happen again and again.”

The stakes are high, he added – for workers struggling to make ends meet in low-wage jobs, as well as employers and the larger society.

“Not only is it good for low-wage workers,” Giloth said, “but it’s good for the city, the state and the country.”

Among the attendees was Robert W. Seurkamp, executive director of the Governor’s Workforce Investment Board for the state of Maryland. He applauded the diverse group for working collectively on a solution to a pressing workforce problem.

“What’s most important is that people like this are coming together to deal with the workforce development issues that can’t be done by any one individual or one company or one group,” Seurkamp said.

In particular, he said he was pleased that the discussion focused on assisting both workers and employers.
“Workforce development is economic development. That’s become the new mantra for the state,” Seurkamp said. “It’s clear that if we don’t do workforce development, we’ll be struggling with the economy.”

At the same time, Seurkamp said the fiscally strapped state government will be hard pressed to provide additional funding to workforce development programs.

“The pie is finite in size,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t see any relief by the state.”

At the same time, the federal government has established a new pool of resources for training in growth industries. Leaders of the healthcare workforce effort in Baltimore said they expect Baltimore and Maryland to attract additional federal funding to help solve their labor challenges. And they called on state leaders to examine ways of reallocating state funding to assist with the healthcare training effort.

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