On-Ramp to a Good Job

A healthcare system's earn-and-learn experiment seeks to guide frontline workers to nursing careers.

Intermountain Health’s experiment to recruit workers for frontline roles and then guide them along a clear, stackable path to becoming nurses. Also, a look at how Washington State is doubling down on free community college and work-based learning to boost homegrown talent.

A Clear Path to a Good Career

Like most U.S. healthcare systems, Intermountain Health needs many more nurses. The crisis requires creative fixes, according to the Salt Lake City-based nonprofit system.

“Nationally, healthcare has reached a tipping point where we can’t hire our way out of the nursing shortage,” says Marguerite Samms, vice president and chief learning officer at Intermountain, which employs 60K workers.

Just 10% of the system’s solution to the nursing crunch will come through hiring, she says. The rest will be reskilling current workers or transforming their jobs, or bringing in entry-level employees from other industries and helping them eventually become nurses.

To create more on-ramps, the system recently launched an experiment that seeks to hire frontline healthcare workers in Colorado and then guide them to higher-level jobs. The Pathfinders project will cover upfront tuition costs for 60 employees as they work toward good-paying careers as nurses, radiology techs, and licensed social workers.

Perhaps most importantly, Intermountain is showing workers a clear route to those quality jobs (see the below chart). And it’s ensuring that their education and training builds seamlessly toward that goal—a rare example of a true stackable credential path.

“This program makes it simpler to explore and begin healthcare careers by reskilling nontraditional, underemployed, or unemployed people,” Samms says. “In other words, attracting people to healthcare who might not have envisioned themselves qualified to work in healthcare.”

Starting With a Destination: A Colorado workforce grant program kicked in $1.9M in seed funds for the pilot. The money will help cover all education costs as participating workers complete certifications or pursue college degrees. The system’s education benefits partner, InStride, will help guide learners along their path to nursing and other careers at the system.

“It’s a true earn-and-learn program,” says Brandon Groves, InStride’s senior manager of learning operations. He says it also allows workers to “build and stack skills.”

The program is open to jobseekers in the Denver and Grand Junction areas. To be eligible, participants can’t hold a four-year college degree. They also must be unemployed or working in jobs that pay less than $15 per hour. In addition, Pathfinders has a focus on students who are over 25 years old, full-time workers, or parents of small children.

To recruit these hires, Intermountain has partnered with FutureFit AI, which describes itself as a personalized GPS for careers. The company is tapping workforce boards, colleges, and community groups as part of that effort.

“We’re provider agnostic” and focused on the quality of sources of talent, says Hamoon Ekhtiari, FutureFit AI’s founder and CEO. The company is tracking where participants come from, and how they fare once employed at Intermountain.

Program participants will be able to tap FutureFit AI’s platform for career exploration, coaching, and job matching based on their skills and interests. “We start with a destination,” says Ekhtiari, and “help them get there.” Once hired, participants will work as certified nursing assistants, medical assistants, or sterile-processing technicians. And the training for them to advance begins immediately.

FutureFit AI will “curate career paths,” Samms says, “moving Coloradans from exposure to healthcare careers to a living-wage job in less than a year.”

Participating workers will be eligible to receive financial and career coaching, help with transportation, and access to a food bank, among other supports. Their education will be offered at no-cost through the program. After completion, employees who work at least 20 hours a week will have access to $5,250 in annual education and training support through Intermountain’s education program, which is administered by InStride.

In some cases, they may receive tailored education offerings through InStride’s university partner network. For example, Groves said the University of Memphis pulled its medical assistant training out of a degree program to create a workforce-development version for Pathfinders participants.

While ambitious in its complexity, the two-year program and its 60 participants won’t make much of a dent in the nursing shortage. But Samms and others hope it will serve as a blueprint for healthcare systems, ideally creating competition that will benefit workers who are trying to find a path to good careers.

The Kicker: “We plan to use the impact and results from this pilot to engage healthcare employers of all sizes, encouraging them to offer their career programs to jobseekers through FutureFit AI’s portal,” Samms says. “The more organizations using the portal, the more choices jobseekers have.”

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Doubling Down on Free Community College

Washington is one of many states that are trying to make community college free, or nearly free. Changing demographics and persistent workforce shortages are contributing to the urgency behind these state pushes.

Revampedaid programs in Washington are among the nation’s most generous. The strategy also includes a heavy focus on work-based learning, and was driven by major employers, including Microsoft, which worried that too few of the state’s residents were prepared for and getting good jobs in high-demand fields, including tech.

As is the case for many states, the results for Washington’s take on free community college have been mixed. Student participation hasn’t met expectations, although demand has been complicated by the pandemic and the FAFSA fiasco.

Seattle-based reporter Elin Johnson looks at the aid programs, with a deep dive on how the state is trying to reduce barriers and increase student enrollment while strengthening career connections. Click over to Work Shift to read the article.

Open Tabs

In-Demand Jobs
Federal job training programs like WIOA fail because they’re designed with potential employers rather than employees in mind, New America’s Kevin Careywrites in The Atlantic. Citing a federal study which found that WIOA participants had no long-term boost in relative wages, Carey says employers sometimes can’t fill jobs because they expect grinding, potentially dangerous work for bad pay, meager benefits, and little room for advancement.

Employer Participation
To ensure that government investments in job-training programs have strong outcomes, their development must be heavily informed by employers, argues a brief from the Progressive Policy Institute and three construction industry-related trade groups. The groups call for more federal funding for job training, support for public-private partnerships, and incentivizing employer participation in public programs, such as Indiana’s Employer Training Grant.

Climate Jobs
The Biden administration announced $60M in funding to help train and place workers in jobs that advance a climate-ready workforce for coastal and Great Lakes states. Some of the nine selected projects feature community colleges, including a $9M grant for a partnership between Tribal Nations and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. The U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA are overseeing the grant program.

Skills-Based Ecosystem
ETS and SHRM will work to develop a skills-based talent ecosystem. The testing firm and the HR association said the project will include individualized career insights, recommendations for learning and upskilling, and an SHRM-developed skills-based talent-management certification. ETS, which has had recent layoffs, also is working on a skills-related project with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The Deep South
To counter occupational segregation, the public workforce system should have a particular focus on Black individuals in the Deep South, writes JFF’s Josh Copus, citing a report from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank. JFF also announced a partnership with the Truist Foundation and a $4.2M investment to build equitable pathways to high-wage, high-growth careers in Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Huntsville, Alabama.

Helping STARs
Opportunity@Work is awarding a total of $2Mto eight U.S. organizations the nonprofit says are boosting economic mobility and combating occupational segregation for workers who historically have been excluded from high-wage roles. “We’ll continue to expand this sort of work providing resources for other organizations who share our goals of building an economy that works for STARs,” says Opportunity@Work’s Rachel Providence.

AI and Teaching
California’s Senate passed a bill to requirethat the instructor of record for a community college course be a qualified faculty member, and not artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, the National Education Association argues in a proposed policy statement that AI can’t replace teachers, reportsPolitico’s Rebecca Carballo. “The use of AI should not displace or impair the connection between students and educators,” the statement says.

Quality Assurance
Citing a “fundamental challenge” of a fractured and largely ineffective college quality assurance system, a group of foundations seeks policy recommendations to ensure that postsecondary education leads to meaningful careers, economic stability, and upward mobility. The RFP is from Arnold Ventures, the Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Strada Education Foundation.

I’m pausing the newsletter the next couple weeks. Thanks for reading, and catch you next month. —PF