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Lansing health care systems create talent through apprenticeship

Much like the rest of the state, and in fact the country, Lansing-area health systems are starved for talent as they try to fill the growing number of job openings in a number of health care occupations. One such occupation in high demand is medical assistant (MA). As some Lansing area health care systems searched for individuals to fill these roles, competing among one another to find and retain employees, they determined the next logical step was to band together to create the talent they needed. The ultimate outcome, perhaps surprising to some, made apprenticeship the cornerstone of their approach.

Capital Area Health Alliance led the charge, creating a workforce committee of area health systems and education, including Lansing Community College (LCC), to address the lack of MAs.

As a backbone to the initiative, the committee used a model successfully initiated in Grand Rapids by Spectrum Health, Mercy Health and Cherry Street Health Services with Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Montcalm community colleges. In the Grand Rapids model, community colleges partnered with health care providers to develop a shared curriculum for a one-year program addressing the skills common to the employers.

In Lansing, the committee took a detailed approach to develop and refine processes, with health systems contributing shared input from the technical and human resources perspectives to advance an apprenticeship model with the common skill sets, classes, and on-the-job experience necessary to meet the competencies required for an MA.

In a traditional MA program, students would typically complete their coursework and then complete a 160 hour Practicum at the end, before graduation. In the apprenticeship model, based on employer request, the students have their Practicum experience throughout the program.

The students perform competencies during each Practicum that they have already met with a score of 100 percent in the classroom. Each student has a Preceptor at their Practicum site that provides direct supervision of all the work that the student MA performs. LCC provided a Preceptor Workshop, which is a requirement of all Preceptors to ensure a quality Practicum experience.

The outcome of this collaboration is a 46-week apprenticeship program, where apprentices spend two days per week in class, and three days per week gaining hands-on experience within the hospital setting.

In the classroom, apprentices learn how to perform administrative duties, such as scheduling, maintaining medical records, billing, and coding information for insurance purposes. They also learn clinical duties under the direction of their instructor, including taking and recording vital signs, collecting medical histories, preparing patients for examinations, taking blood, and administering medications as directed by the physician. They then apply these skills while in the ambulatory care setting during their Practicums.

Class and lab time support these activities, with instruction in communication skills, administrative skills, clinical theory and practice, pharmacology, and phlebotomy, to name a few.

Though some apprenticeships focus on time spent, this program is competency-based and is supplemented by a required number of hours of related instruction. As apprentices gain critical skills and meet important competencies, they earn wage increases at timed intervals and advance in the program.

MA apprentices in this program are slated to complete the process in less than a year, earning a wage the entire time. The typical MA certification program lasts two years, making Lansing’s apprenticeship a fast-track option into the occupation.

The Capital Area Michigan Works! agency was enlisted to help recruit those interested in participating in the apprenticeship program, and the first cohort launched in January 2018 with eight apprentices embedded within Sparrow Health System, McLaren of Greater Lansing and CIMA. The cohort will conclude in November 2018.

Beyond this initial cohort, additional meetings are slated to further refine the criteria and experience to shape the next iteration of the program. Given the entry-level nature of the MA role in health systems and that many apprentices see MA apprenticeship as a launching step in their careers, discussions about pathways for advancement are necessary to attract more candidates and enhance commitment.

One option is to create “stackable credentials.” Stackable credentials would make a candidate that has completed the MA apprenticeship eligible for additional apprenticeships, such as surgical techs, medical coders, or EMTs. Stackable credentials offer apprentices a clear roadmap to career advancement, while providing employers with a strategy for filling their talent pipeline to a variety of jobs that they need to fill.

Through MA apprenticeship, health care providers create an active pipeline of talent for themselves and build greater loyalty with apprentices who participate in their programs because of the investment made in their careers. The Workforce Intelligence Network’s (WIN) Executive Director Michele Economou Ureste goes into detail on employer benefits in her Crain’s Detroit Business blog titled, Apprenticeships can help alleviate shortages of medical assistants in health care industry.

For professions and regions lacking the talent they seek, the apprenticeship model is a viable solution to filling the gap. The Lansing area is proof positive that apprenticeships are not restricted to only the “traditional” skilled trades occupations in manufacturing and construction. For high-demand occupations in any industry, we can create the talent we need.

LCC is part of the Advance Michigan Center for Apprenticeship Innovation, a DOL-funded initiative managed by WIN. For more information about creating a registered apprenticeship program in any field, contact an AMCAI partner at miapprenticeship.org/contact. More information on apprenticeship is available at MIApprenticeship.org.

This story was written by Nicki Guggemos, Director of Trades Technology Services, Technical Careers Division, Lansing Community College