When Akron Children’s introduced its workforce development program in 2019, it was with the intention of filling in-demand, entry-level positions in specific degree paths. Two years later, Patrice Russell, talent acquisition programs manager, held the first-ever Career Launch graduation ceremony (virtually) to celebrate 5 graduates who recently completed the program.
“This graduation is a success story for a program that started less than 2 years ago and has continued without interruption during a global pandemic. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and a source of great pride,” she said. “Our goal has always been to go beyond just paying tuition. We’re helping participants get to the next level in their careers by removing barriers to success like covering childcare and transportation costs and providing support through mentors.”
Since the program’s inception, over 45 students, many from the surrounding community have enrolled in degree path programs for registered respiratory technology, medical assisting, licensed practical nursing (LPN) and EEG technology. To find candidates for Career Launch, Patrice works with community-based organizations and directly contacts local school counselors to make sure students are aware of the program. To date, Career Launch has invested more than $97,000 in its participants through tuition, books, uniforms, childcare, transportation, testing and fees and technology.
Beyond these tangible resources, the hospital is also developing an in-house program that will teach soft skills necessary for career advancement and leadership. New participants have benefited from math refresher courses at the University of Akron, and the program looks to add a science review for clinical programs in the near future.
“There are too many barriers (especially in underserved areas) that keep talented people out of the medical field,” said Patrice. “We created Career Launch to put people on a path to a stable career with real advancement potential. We want to open new doors to people who didn’t realize they have the potential to do more.”
Akron Children’s is committed to building a team of professionals as diverse as the communities it serves. Right now, over 37% of active students in Career Launch qualify as diverse based on their age, gender, economic status and race. The current graduating class ranges in age from 22-54 years old.
Tracy DelSignore, physician office secretary in the Mahoning Valley, finished her medical assisting program in December 2020. She credits Career Launch with enabling her to pivot after building her career as an administrative professional.
“Career Launch has changed my life. It gave me the confidence to take a different path at such a mature age,” she said. “I had the support of my family, friends and co-workers that was much needed at times.”
Tracy also had the support of her mentor.
“This cohort was really connected to their mentors,” said Patrice. “We pair each participant with a mentor selected for their expertise and ability to help develop high-performing team members. Participants meet with their mentors at least twice a month to discuss progress, help gain skills and assist in balancing studies and career.”
The program has been so successful plans are underway to offer new degree and certificate pathways to touch even more students. With a nationwide shortage of registered respiratory technicians, Akron Children’s is taking a proactive approach to the problem.
“We plan to launch a learning and professional development experience called Career Launch Plus, where students will be paid to learn and make completing their education the priority,” said Patrice. Participants will learn about the critical skills needed as a pediatric respiratory therapist during their first year of employment—building a true appreciation for the teams that make our lifesaving work possible.”
During the second year, participants move into respiratory tech positions and build their skills while continuing to work with a dedicated department trainer. After graduation, techs become therapists. The program will be targeted toward community members in Akron and Youngstown who want to pursue a career in health care.
To join the Career Launch program, participants must be committed to the demands of the program, be or become employed by Akron Children’s Hospital, maintain their job performance once employed, and bring a compassionate and positive attitude. To learn more, visit the Career Launch page on the hospital’s website.