Central Susquehanna IU 16: Apprenticeships Position CNAs for Success

In the building trades, generations of craftspeople have undertaken apprenticeships to learn their trades and prepare for productive careers.

Apprenticeships are less common in the booming health care industry, but now, Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit 16 is leading Pennsylvania’s first apprenticeship program designed to help certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, climb the nursing career ladder and achieve self-sufficiency.

CSIU had already been training Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) for over 40 years. These graduates are making a difference in the health care delivery system and the lives of those they serve. In 2010, CSIU was awarded a Health Profession Opportunity Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement Work Attributes Toward Careers in Health (WATCH).  
WATCH was renewed in 2015. That’s when CSIU personnel asked health care employers where they were struggling, and “they were vocal about their CNAs,” whose hands-on duties are essential in providing high-quality care, says Katherine Vastine, WATCH project program manager. “They had a hard time recruiting and retaining them,” she says. “When you have high turnover, you struggle with quality of care. You struggle with patient satisfaction.”
In response, CSIU enlisted partners in education, workforce development, and health care, plus the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, Apprenticeship and Training Office. Working with Pennsylvania College of Technology, North Central Area Health Education Center and a Registered Nurse the CSIU developed an apprenticeship curriculum that meets state and federal standards.
Under the “earn and learn” program model, CNAs work their existing jobs while seeking a nationally recognized credential attesting to their knowledge of advanced practices, plus specialties in Geriatrics, Dementia, and Mentoring. Apprentices sharpen their skills through 2,000 hours of supervised on-the-job training plus 150 hours in theory studies.

Partnering employers pledge salary increases for successful apprentices. Apprentices are also able to earn nine Pennsylvania College of Technology credits, positioning them for additional education in health care careers.

The first CNA to apprentice and complete two modules earned state recognition and is pursuing a third module. Her employer, Susque-View Home, says Vastine, “doesn’t want to lose her. She is a tremendous asset to their health care team.”

The program has a powerful impact on the region’s people and its economy, says Dr. John Kurelja, CSIU’s Chief Academic Officer and Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Regional Education Services.

“Employers get a higher number of well-trained, skilled employees,” he says. “People in the area are going to find jobs that allow them to earn a wage that sustains a family.”  

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