Demand is surging for allied health care workers, including medical assistants
, radiologic technologists, and physical therapist assistants. The pandemic has accelerated
that demand, while also adding digital elements to both the jobs and the training in certain entry-level health care fields.
Yet running an allied health program with good outcomes and a viable business model isn’t easy. And several for-profit colleges with large medical assistant programs either collapsed
or shrunk during the last decade.
The new Futuro Health is an unusual model worth watching
, according to a wide range of observers. It’s also a complex solution to an enormous societal challenge
, like most of the programs featured in this newsletter.
Kaiser Permanente and the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) kicked in $130 million
to create the nonprofit training hub, which launched just before the pandemic hit.
The approach is novel in that it seeks to bridge the education-to-work gap by supporting students with career exploration and coaching, education financing, and targeted education-to-work pathways to credentials and licensure—while making sure credentials can stack up
to a college degree. And Futuro’s role is more convener than provider, as it brings together a wide collection of partners.
California alone needs an estimated 500,000 new allied health workers
by 2024, says Van Ton-Quinlivan
, Futuro’s CEO, who previously led workforce development for the state’s huge community college system and for Pacific Gas & Electric before that.
A problem of this scope “cannot be solved by one institution alone,” she says. “That’s why our approach is one of building an ecosystem of partners.”
Western Governors University is part of the effort. The nonprofit, online university features competency-based programs and has become one of the nation’s largest universities. WGU quickly created a one-year medical assistant program
for the project, with help from Futuro with lab spaces, says Ton-Quinlivan. It’s the university’s first sub-baccalaureate credential.
The for-profit North-West College
and Pima Medical Institute
are partners. So are several community colleges, which are providing “jump start courses” to help adult students gain confidence with online learning. Futuro also features a 15-week, fully online certificate
for advanced telehealth coordinators from the University of Delaware.
Telehealth has boomed during the pandemic. And Futuro anticipates that much of this growth will become permanent after the crisis. It underwrote the enrollment of 163 public health clinic employees in the online certificate program from Delaware last fall. With a completion rate of 87 percent in that cohort, Futuro added 70 more slots this spring.
Likewise, Futuro is investing in three behavioral health programs to meet demand for mental health services. For example, a nine-month, online certificate for community health workers includes an emphasis on behavioral health issues such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and mild depression—all of which have spiked during the pandemic.
The organization waived tuition last year and for 2021
. Students pay application fees (typically $50-$100) and a $20 per-month membership fee for access to a statewide network of health care workers who offer career and academic advising.
Futuro’s initial focus is California. But it seeks to expand to other states. Roughly 1,600 students attended the tuition-free programs last year. It plans to enroll
3,500 students in 2021.
Experts point to several intriguing aspects of Futuro’s approach. Its data-driven onboarding is built to scale, and prioritizes simplicity and clarity for students. The organization’s partnership with a large labor union helps in getting the word out to potential students, driving down student recruiting costs that can make allied health programs tricky to run.
The partnership focus works well for modern organized labor, says Adriano Allegrini
, a director with Tyton Partners, who points to similar initiatives in building services and construction.
“If it is well executed, this can be a replicable model for several other industries where organized labor and the need to upskill the workforce converge,” he says.
Here’s why Allegrini thinks Futuro could be a blueprint for future partnerships:
- It helps Kaiser deal with workforce upskilling and a shortage of qualified workers.
- It keeps the unions relevant and solidifies them as training partners.
- Union use of micro-credentials to replace or modernize the traditional apprenticeship model can increase union membership and make the credentials instantly relevant.
- Partnering with WGU brings to the fore competency-based education, which is a viable (or even the best) model for these programs.