Personal View: Workforce development is much more than the first step up

Feb 5, 2024

By Heidi Gartland and Kim Shelnick

Read the full article on Crain's Cleveland Business

Ken Blaze
Ken Blaze

Getting talented, motivated people to join your organization – even if it wasn’t in their original plans to contribute to your field – is job one in workforce development.

At University Hospitals, we have an incredible job readiness program called Step Up to UH that does just that. Through engaged neighborhood outreach, we hire members of local and largely under-resourced communities into important entry-level caregiver roles in our health care system.

Contributed photo - Mytrice Thomas
Contributed photo - Mytrice Thomas

What we and our new local hires are finding is that this is not just a job-filling program, but rather an opportunity for our caregivers to have a long career in health care, through a designed, intentional career path.

After they’re hired into that first entry-level job, our newly hired local caregivers pair up with career coaches from human resources, who provide reassurance that we are an invested partner in their career development journey. Together, they set a plan to access an array of different career development pathways and programs to “skill up.”

Flexibility and meeting caregiver-specific needs are key. Life investments like working to complete their high school education, brushing up on math and reading skills before enrolling in college and completing “Earn-and-Learn” programs for in-demand health care fields are just a few examples. This is a win-win for us and for them. The upshot of all of it is a larger, more diverse and more robust workforce, filling important in-demand roles to help us improve health and wellness for our patients and our community. And it does take a multifaceted approach with many moving parts.

Clevelander Mytrice Thomas is an illustrative example.

She joined UH in 2017 through Step Up to UH and took such an important role as an environmental services caregiver. She enjoyed her job at UH Seidman Cancer Center, creating a safe and sterile environment for our patients and clinicians by cleaning the second-floor pharmacy. However, after working with our clinical professionals in pharmacy and career coaches, we learned that she felt drawn to complete her pharmacy technician certification, begun years before. Her vision for her future had always included a career in pharmacy. The next step was to partner with her to chart a life-changing strategy for her career path.

“I knew that pharmacy was a career for me,” she says. “This is always what I wanted to do.”

Her career coach helped her navigate opportunities to “skill up.”

The first time Thomas applied to UH’s new and demanding 16-week “Earn-and-Learn” Pharmacy Tech Training Program, it was full. But that didn’t stop her. Her second application was successful, setting the stage for a new job at UH as a pharmacy tech – and a literal string of three quick promotions. In just over two years, with the help of coaching and mentoring, she’s progressed from Pharmacy Tech 1 all the way to Peer Educator in the training program, teaching new students who were in her shoes just a few short years ago.

A new year brings an important new job with considerable and increased responsibilities – something Thomas says she relishes. Her career coach and mentors credit her tenacity and willingness to learn and use the resources available to her – even when things were challenging. Maybe especially then.

Her story is the epitome of our workforce development philosophy and strategy. Individuals from the community ‘skill up’ into other career paths, for everyone’s benefit.

Of course, Thomas is responsible for her own success. No one else put in the work but her. But at UH, we’re convinced that one of our responsibilities as a member of the Northeast Ohio community is to provide the infrastructure so that success stories like Thomas' are possible – and can happen every day. We’re committed to that vision.

When personal determination finds an outlet that makes career progress possible, amazing things can happen.

Heidi Gartland is chief government and community relations officer at University Hospitals; Kim Shelnick is UH's vice president of talent acquisition.