Career coaches spark success, ingenuity in healthcare training program

Jefferson City, Missouri – January 28, 2013. Community college career coaches from across the state met recently at the Missouri Community College Association office in Jefferson City to share tips and techniques for helping students navigate the journey from training to employment. Their focus was on assisting new crops of students – many of whom are unemployed and underemployed adults – served through the MoHealthWINs program, which provides low-cost training in healthcare fields at participating community colleges. As a core offering, MoHealthWINs participants receive their own personal advisor to guide them through the major steps from exploring career options, to navigating the sequence of training, to job searching after graduation.

With generally similar functions, the coaches are known by different titles. Metropolitan Community College, for example, refers to theirs as “Learning Specialists,” while Ozarks Technical College employs “Recruiter/Retention Specialists,” with “Career Pathway Coaches” serving at St. Louis Community College. “Program Support Specialist” Alison Sheets was recently featured on KDKZ-TV for her role in helping students in Mineral Area College’s Pharmacy Technician program access real-world experience as part of their training.

Each career coach meets the same crucial need: giving students – many of whom are entering training for the first time, or after long careers in other fields – human interaction that can take the form of encouragement, counseling, advising on available resources, connecting with peers, or even nagging when needed. One ‘best practice’ identified by the coaches at their recent meeting is to specially tailor the assistance to unique phases of student participation, identifying requisite skill sets needed for each. Kara Wheeler with State Fair Community College uses a holistic-yet-customized approach in her role as career coach.  Wheelers says, “My job is to be the students’ One-Stop Shop for assistance through the whole healthcare training process. Giving them one person to turn to for all the different questions and needs makes my workdays long sometimes, but it’s worth it when they say how helpful it is.”

For George Hudson, Employment Development Coordinator with Metropolitan Community College, the most valuable thing a career coach can do is to simplify. “At any given point during the students’ journey, we are connecting literally dozens of resources and programs and agencies,” George says. “My job is to reduce all that complexity and just give the students the bottom line of what we can do to help.”

Developing the skills to be an effective career coach is an ongoing process, hence these recurring gatherings to share best practices, plus regular professional development and self-study on current trends in the career advising field. But the colleges’ MoHealthWINs advisors also benefit from an impressive repertoire of prior experience. Laurie Lombardo and Cassandra Brown with St. Louis Community College are able to provide comprehensive career assessments, skill improvement tools, resume and interview assistance, and research-based job search instruction that they both mastered as former employees of Missouri Career Centers. Kristine Hayes with Moberly Area Community College is especially qualified to advise on healthcare careers since she is a Certified Laboratory Technician.  She is able to integrate a unique clinical component to learning, tying course objectives with clinical hours, as well as matching up affective objectives with necessary soft skills.

The career coach development journey can also spawn innovations in new methods, as OTC’s Matthew Scott discovered. Frustrated with the inefficiency of tracking participant information, he decided to create his own case management database tool. His Access-based system, called “RightTrac,” allows instantaneous case note entry, with easy categorization of student service information and report generation. During this recent career coaches meeting, the team brainstormed and developed a new Skills Inventory tool to help identify and organize critical coaching skills.

Finally, the coaches can be there through some uniquely challenging circumstances. Crowder College Recruitment Advisor, Kelli Cragin recalled assisting students during the aftermath of the Joplin tornado: “With the local hospitals overwhelmed with people needing care, our healthcare students got an unforgettable lesson in emergency medicine. Despite the confusion and relentless schedules, our students stuck with it every step of the way. That experience really encouraged me about what quality professionals we are equipping for the future healthcare workforce.”

As Missouri’s other major grant training program, MoManufacturingWINs, enters the first phase of implementation, policymakers are looking to benchmark the same successful approach. Dr. Roderick Nunn, Vice Chancellor for Economic Development and Workforce Solutions for St. Louis Community College, notes that in addition to college career coaches, “navigators” from the United Auto Workers will advise MoManufacturingWINs participants through UAW union halls, ensuring there is “no wrong door” for program entry.

MoHealthWINs/MoManufacturingWINs Project Director Dawn Busick is elated at the progress generated by the Career Coach network: “These front-line coaches are what make the difference for our MoHealthWINs participants. Their work is always challenging and sometimes thankless, but at the end of the day, they are the ones who truly bring out the full potential in our state’s future healthcare professionals.”

The Missouri Community College Association is a statewide organization through which Missouri’s community colleges work together to advance common agendas.  MCCA provides advocacy, education, information, and networking opportunities in service of the state’s 5,700 community college faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees.

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