Apprenticeship Programs: A Viable Solution for Healthcare

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A workforce crisis is threatening the U.S. economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found 8.1 million vacant job openings in the United States. As lawmakers, nonprofits, and employers consider how to help close employment gaps, apprenticeship programs have been gaining attention.

The Biden Administration’s American Jobs plan encourages funding for numerous apprenticeships, including those in fields like cybersecurity and software engineering. Achieve Partners recently created the $180 million Putting America Back to Work Fund to invest in businesses that are positioned to offer apprenticeship programs in key industries, including healthcare.

Key Benefits of Apprenticeship Programs

Under an apprenticeship program, workers receive the training they need to become skilled in a particular role. An apprenticeship is considered a full-time job, and usually includes both classroom learning and on-the-job experience. Apprenticeship program graduates also receive compensation and a nationally accredited certificate.

These programs can be found in a variety of industries, from cosmetology to computer programming to pharmacy. When they offer apprenticeship programs, companies have found that:

  • Hiring an apprentice is usually less expensive than skilled employees;
  • The employer has more control over the apprentice’s training;
  • Apprentices can be hired even after the apprenticeship ends; and
  • Employee engagement increases while turnover decreases.

U.S. employers who are interested in creating apprenticeship opportunities can find more information on the Department of Labor’s apprenticeship website.

Apprenticeships in Healthcare

The healthcare industry has seen rapid growth in recent years that continued during the pandemic. As a shortage of healthcare workers threatens those advancements, apprenticeship programs may become a helpful tool for healthcare employers.

For an industry like healthcare, where patient safety is a top concern, apprenticeship programs may be debatable. Critics doubt that healthcare apprenticeships are as rigorous as traditional programs. Supporters argue, however, that apprenticeships can offer the same level of education and training, and can be designed to match current, established standards for healthcare roles.

For example, the UK-based nonprofit Skills for Health is working to develop standards for an apprenticeship for pharmacists. The organization maintains that a pharmacist apprenticeship standard will match other standards for pharmacist training and education, including the same regulatory requirements as traditional pharmacy education.

Apprenticeship programs have received greater interest due to an ongoing shortage of healthcare workers. Demand for healthcare support staff, such as medical assistants, is now higher than the number of available candidates. Apprenticeship programs could be a viable solution for individuals who would be interested in a healthcare career, but do not have the time or financial means to receive the necessary training and certification. 

The number of healthcare apprentices more than doubled between 2016 and 2018 alone, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. The department noted that those healthcare organizations that use a registered apprenticeship model for support staff saw:

  • Increased staff productivity;
  • Better patient care;
  • An opportunity to provide more flexible training options;
  • Standardized training across the organization;
  • Lower turnover and liability; and
  • Tax credits and employee tuition benefits, depending on the location of the program.

Building an apprenticeship program can seem intimidating. Fortunately, a program launch does not have to start too big. Healthcare employers can begin their apprenticeship program with a few participants and gradually grow as they see success. Partnering with support organizations can also help.

Healthcare employers looking to find better candidates and close workforce gaps should not leave apprenticeships off the table. By starting with a small program for certain roles that follows current certification requirements, healthcare organizations can begin to see many of the benefits of offering apprenticeship programs.

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