Health Care and Human Resources

Health industry cluster addresses talent shortage

August 14, 2015
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West Michigan-based health care employers have come together to create a work-based, earn-and-learn apprenticeship for medical assistants.

Michigan Works! Kent, Allegan & Barry Counties announced recently that a collaboration of West Michigan-based health care employers has agreed to move forward as an industry cluster to develop a registered medical assistant apprenticeship program with the U.S. Department of Labor to address a growing talent shortage.

More than 40 health-care providers, educators, state officials and workforce development professionals met in late July to discuss the potential collaborative effort as a solution to a growing shortage of health care workers in the region.

West Michigan-based health care employers participating in the industry cluster are Mercy Health, Metro Health, Spectrum Health, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Cherry Street Health Services and Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

Deb Lyzenga, business services manager for Michigan Works! Kent, Allegan and Barry Counties, said the medical assistant apprenticeship pilot program is the first initiative focused on by the industry cluster.

“Medical assistants are in high demand. Entry-level people who may not have any medical skills but are interested in going into the medical field can get their experience through the Department of Labor registered apprenticeship,” said Lyzenga. “They work for three days, go to school for two days and, at the end of two years, they will be certified medical assistants.”

The medical assistant apprenticeship program is anticipated to launch in January 2016; currently, the industry cluster is looking closely at various community colleges to assist with the classroom instruction.

“They haven’t really settled on the community colleges yet, but they are looking at community colleges in the West Michigan area that can standardize the education for all of them and is conducive to the Department of Labor regulations required, as well,” said Lyzenga.

The discussion of a potential health care industry cluster began after Mercy Health approached Michigan Works! roughly six months ago to leverage the agency’s network to attract a diverse talent base, according to Lyzenga.

“(Mercy Health) is really looking to have a broad spectrum of employees in the workplace. They personally have done a lot of research that proves the value of a diverse workforce and they brought us in,” said Lyzenga. “They know a lot of people come through the Michigan Works! offices, and we have a lot of contacts.”

Roughly two months ago, Mercy Health and Michigan Works! decided to invite other hospitals and health care organizations in the area to discuss forming an industry cluster. The workforce solutions agency’s role in the medical assistant apprenticeship program upon launching will include recruiting potential candidates, assisting with paperwork for the program and providing support in terms of funding.

“This will benefit the community; it will give them skills, it will raise the level of income and sustainability of people who have minimal health care skills but would like to go into it,” said Lyzenga. “This is a great program we are talking about, where people can go from medical assisting and choose to go further in the education. The certification is a stepping stone to a career in health care.”

The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated the job outlook for medical assistants is projected to grow at 29 percent from 2012 to 2022 throughout the country and add approximately 162,900 jobs. In 2006, nearly 416,900 medical assistants were employed throughout the nation, with 61.7 percent employed in physician offices, 12.3 percent working in hospitals, and 11.4 percent serving in health practitioner offices, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Through 2014, medical assistant employment was anticipated to grow much faster than average in Michigan, with an average of 760 annual openings due to growth and replacement reasons. Medical assistant employment was projected to grow 34.1 percent across the state in that timeframe, with a 41.7 percent growth in the Grand Rapids area alone, according to LARA Health Careers in Michigan.

Jackie Keller, senior human resources consultant at Mercy Health, said health care providers are having a difficult time filling credential programs such as medical assistants and registered nurses.

“Apprenticeships make it possible for individuals to take small steps to eventually attain those health care credentials,” said Keller.

A registered apprenticeship with the U.S. Department of Labor is considered a work-based learning and post-secondary earn-and-learn model. Registered apprenticeship training allows participants to not only earn wages from employers during training but also result in an industry-recognized credential. Most provide classroom instruction at technical schools or community colleges, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“The Department of Labor goes through the curriculum, and it is based on what the employers want, but there also has to be some core curriculum that shows competencies,” said Lyzenga in reference to the medical assistant program.

Russell Davis, Michigan state director at the U.S. Department of Labor, said there is a big push from the federal government for apprenticeships “as the need is great, and other industries, most notably manufacturing, have seen tremendous success with them.”

Although the West Michigan health care collaborative is the first medical-field-related industry cluster, other industries, such as manufacturing and construction, have formed industry clusters that include employers, suppliers, educators and economic and workforce development professionals working collaboratively to address issues affecting the specific field.

“Research has shown employers who come together as an industry cluster can do much better in the training and development of their workers — they have a larger voice at the state level — as opposed to individual employers trying to develop training programs,” said Lyzenga. “This is one more step. It hasn’t been done in the health care realm so it is new, but it is an ongoing progression we know has been beneficial to other industries.”

Those interested in pursuing the medical assistant apprenticeship and health care organizations wanting to participate in the industry cluster can contact Michigan Works! Kent, Allegan, and Barry Counties.

“We would certainly welcome anyone else who is interested in joining us,” said Lyzenga. “It is a very West Michigan collaborative.”

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