Idaho Apprenticeships Help Meet the Demand for Health Care Workers

Creating career pathways helps the medical industry and the state meet local workforce needs
nurse and two students at table

A Saint Alphonsus nurse explains the proper use of gloves, to Linda Akike, and another student. (Photo courtesy of College of Western Idaho)

Linda Akike came to Boise from the Republic of Congo. She always dreamed of being a nurse, so when she heard she could enroll in a program that may lead to a full-time job at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, she leaped at the chance.

Akike learned about a new pre-apprenticeship program offered by the Idaho Department of Labor and the College of Western Idaho (CWI) through the International Rescue Committee in Boise.  The CWI class offers 80 hours of instruction and training to prepare job seekers for an Environmental Services position in health care, and potentially a full-on career in the future.

The class trains people for environmental service work in a hospital and helps people like Akike, for whom English is a second language, learn English-speaking skills and health care vocabulary terms she’ll need to know.

“I was so excited to take the class because it helps us a lot. We learn things like how to clean, how to talk to patients – a lot of very important things,” Akike said. “The classes give you more confidence in what you’re learning to do. The teachers treat us very well. They let you know that they care about you.”

Saint Al’s has difficulty keeping environmental service positions filled at the hospital because it’s a hard, high demand, entry-level position, according to officials.

“It’s a physical, tough job,” said Clark Pope, Environmental Services Manager for St. Al’s in Boise. “There’s times we need people and we can’t get any applications, and we might post a position on a Friday, and get 200 applications by Monday. With low unemployment in a strong economy, there’s a lot of competition to get good quality candidates. We have six openings right now.”

The International Rescue Committee helps recruit job candidates for the pre-apprenticeship class at CWI. Candidates are screened during interviews so they understand what they’re getting into, Pope said.

“People in these positions spend a lot of hours on the computer and on their feet, cleaning rooms, disposing of medical items properly, replacing clean linens and using the right disinfectants,” Pope said.

The Saint Al’s apprenticeship starts at just under $12 an hour, but good candidates will make more money over time and potentially advance into other higher-paying health care jobs. The CWI apprenticeship leads to a certification as a health care environmental technician.

“Whatever they want to do, however hard they want to work, the sky is the limit,” Pope said.

And that’s the path that Akike wants to take. She’s working 40 hours a week as an EVS apprentice at St. Al’s and wants to work her way up to being a nurse.

“I just love my job,” Akike said. “I will take more classes and try to move up.”

The apprenticeship got started when representatives of the Idaho Department of Labor, the International Rescue Committee, the College of Western Idaho and Saint Al’s had a conversation about the need for environmental service employees in the health care industry. It was an opportunity to help adult refugees and people who need solid jobs and better English-speaking skills gain a pathway to reaching their goals.

A U.S. Department of Labor grant and the Idaho Department of Labor helps pay for the pre-apprenticeship training at CWI while also helping job seekers with vital assistance such as transportation to CWI and child care.

“It’s been a great partnership and community effort to put the whole program together,” said Ofelia Morales, a workforce training consultant for the Idaho Department of Labor.

“The biggest barriers are helping people with transportation needs and covering child care needs,” said Trevi Hardy, ESL and Pathways supervisor for CWI.

For Akike, Rescue International helped her obtain funds from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to cover child care while she took the pre-apprenticeship class at CWI.

The intake interview with Rescue International and CWI officials ensures job candidates understand what they’re getting into, Morales said. “We want to make sure it’s a good career they might be interested in,” she said.

“Students need to know they’re going to be taking on a hard, demanding physical job cleaning hospital rooms,” Hardy said. “Completing the CWI class doesn’t guarantee them a job, but they will get an interview.”

By focusing the CWI classes on specific job skills for environmental services work and teaching industry-specific vocabulary in class, “it speeds up their language acquisition, shortens the time for them to become job-ready,” Hardy said.

“We try to make it a wrap-around program so the participants have a lot of support,” said Molly Valceshini, a career pathways senior specialist for Rescue International. “We’re really proud of our partnership.”

The class meets in the evenings, two times a week for 12 weeks during the spring and fall semesters at CWI. There’s usually a waiting list of people waiting to get into the next class. Most of the current class participants are adult refugees from the Ukraine, Mexico, China, Congo and Columbia.

Many are already working another job, so CWI holds the classes at night. “The cool thing is these are some really talented, awesome people,” Valceshini said.

Pope has hired two people out of the program so far, including Akike. Successful applicants work in the environmental services apprenticeship program for 12 months and receive 2,000 hours of training. Once they get hired full time, they have a chance to increase their pay and potentially move onto another job if they choose to do so. Successful apprentices might want to move onto being a nursing assistant, work in patient transport, pharmacy technician, medical assistant, phlebotomist and more.

“I’m so happy,” Akike said. “My job is awesome.”

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Health care apprenticeships are also available in other areas of Idaho, through partnerships between the state and St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center in the Treasure Valley and Blaine County, and with North Idaho College and six health care providers in the northern Idaho.

The Panhandle-area partnership includes the department, North Idaho College and a consortium of medical providers including Kootenai Health, Northwest Specialty Hospital, Heritage Health, Kaniksu Health, and the Rehabilitation Hospital of the Northwest. Working together, the state and private industry provides registered apprenticeships for people to become a certified medical assistants or patient care technicians.

Health care providers field job candidates through internal applications and partner with North Idaho College to deliver job skill training in tandem with on-the-job training, officials said.

Thanks to Idaho’s strong economy and a high demand for entry-level health care employees, the apprenticeship program is providing more trained employees for the work force, said Dotty Heberer, NIC Health Professions coordinator.

“We are working together to solve work places shortages,” Heberer said.

— Steve Stuebner for the Idaho Department of Labor

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