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Contributed Content: 6 Ways Healthcare Benefits From Apprenticeships

Analysis  |  By Len Carter  
   March 19, 2024

Apprenticeship is an effective model to grow your own healthcare workforce.

Editor's note: Carter is the Chief Human Resources Officer at FHN, an award-winning regional healthcare system committed to the health and well-being of the people of northwest Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

Healthcare employers at my organization and a handful of others recognized National Apprenticeship Week last November, likely for the first time. This is because the apprenticeship model for recruiting and training new career-starters in healthcare is new to many healthcare organizations, despite being proven successful in other industries. 

The increasingly critical staffing shortages of the past several years have driven those of us in healthcare to find innovative ways to replace lost workers and find new ones. 

At FHN, one approach we are taking in addressing this immediate urgency is focusing on projects that—on the surface at least—seem more like long-term efforts to build a sustainable talent pool. We all know it takes time to make these projects yield results because they involve building partnerships, changing policies, and creating internal programs to train that talent. But my purpose here is to explain how apprenticeships can be successful in healthcare not only for long-term investments in a talent pool but for immediate needs as well—because apprenticeships have been very successful for FHN.

Len Carter is the Chief Human Resources Officer at FHN. Photo courtesy of FHN.

The basis of our apprenticeship program came from working with the regional board at Workforce Connections; we built a program that would hire and develop more medical assistants and pharmacy technicians for our organization. We work with MedCerts and other organizations for the online or classroom training and preparation of our apprentices so they can pass their industry credential programs. We work with Workforce Connections to tap into grant funds from the Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship Program, and FHN provides the mentors and the hands-on classroom experience for the apprentices.

This program has been so successful that we are developing apprenticeship programs for other needs at FHN; it is a model every healthcare employer should consider in this challenging workforce environment. Here are six reasons why. 

  1. Immediately expands the applicant pool: The apprenticeship model offers numerous benefits, not the least of which is removing barriers for applicants who lack prior healthcare training or experience. I cannot overstate the importance of this point. Apprenticeships are a crucial and foundational step in an industry where skilled labor shortages are projected to grow even worse over the next decade. It is equally crucial that the “classroom” training element be paired with hands-on learning. Our classroom training is online through our vendor but the hands-on clinical experience takes place on site and with our own staff. This lets us grow our own talent, and the individuals we have do not need previous healthcare experience—they just need the right aptitude and work ethic.
  2. Reduces academic recruiting demands: Until the last several years, healthcare organizations could focus their recruitment efforts on a handful of partner institutions; more recently, with labor shortages making recruiting more competitive than ever, employers had to recruit at dozens of institutions. Since an apprenticeship program eliminates the requirement for applicants to have already earned a degree or credential, employers need not spread their recruiting efforts so thin across so many institutions.
  3. Support is readily available: Apprenticeship programs are new to healthcare, where many executives and hiring managers are likely unfamiliar with the model; luckily, we can learn from successful programs in private industry and from workforce development agencies. Through FHN’s participation in state and regional workforce boards, we heard firsthand about thriving apprenticeship programs in other sectors and began to ask ourselves, “Why doesn’t healthcare do this?” Funding is available to pay for the training from state workforce development funds and grants from the Department of Labor (DoL). In the last two years, DoL has invested over $200 million in growing apprenticeship programs, including healthcare where DoL has deemed eight occupations as apprentice able.
  4.  Serves as built-in vetting: As new apprentices go through the program, employers have a bird’s-eye view into their work ethic, their attitudes, and their capabilities. Those who complete their training are ready to work and they’re already immersed in the company culture—there are no first-day surprises for the employer or the employee.
  5. Creates career pathways: We have long focused our workforce efforts on retention at FHN, and our apprenticeship program is a natural fit here. Not only does it allow us to hire, educate, and train new staff for entry-level roles like medical assistants and pharmacy techs, but it also creates career growth pathways for existing staff in administrative and other support positions. Helping our employees to grow their careers is undoubtedly a contributor to our positive staff retention rates and it has allowed us to fill critical entry-level roles and support individuals who are working toward nursing or pharmacy degrees.
  6. Builds a sustainable talent pipeline: When we first began to discuss implementing an apprenticeship program, some hiring managers expressed concerns about the time required for a new apprentice to complete their training and begin their new job. “But we need people now,” is a common reaction when healthcare leaders begin to consider an apprenticeship model. It was no different for us. We persevered, however, by explaining the bigger picture: We will need these employees now and in 10 months. By then, a class of apprentices will have completed the program and be working, already familiar with our organization and already trained specifically on the skills we need. Seeing apprenticeships as a viable model means stepping back from urgency to invest in a future where applicants are readily available, and the talent is homegrown.

At FHN our employee data tells us that if we can retain a new employee for 3 years, we keep them for 12. This is a metric we keep coming back to when envisioning how we staff and grow our organization. When the focus becomes retention over recruitment—which is a mission within our HR department—then apprenticeships make even more sense. Now in our third year, we can attest to apprenticeships successfully adding the kind of people we need into our employee base. As the sources of talent from the traditional feeder-school models dwindle, meeting the next decade’s workforce demands makes apprenticeships a rewarding and successful option to add into healthcare organization staffing plans.



“Seeing apprenticeships as a viable model means stepping back from urgency to invest in a future where applicants are readily available, and the talent is homegrown.”


Will a potential employee be a fit for an organization? Apprenticeship programs serve as built-in vetting for employers.

No money? Federal grants are available to pay for apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeships focus the mission on retention over recruitment.

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