St. Luke’s University Health Network is joining a growing number of companies looking for ways to attract employees in this era of hard to fill jobs.
The health network started the St. Luke’s Vo-Tech Co-Op Program in December and now is working with select students from area high schools and Bethlehem Area Vo-Tech School (BAVTS) to offer learning on the job while getting paid.
This is a win-win arrangement with the school districts, the network said. It gives teens a chance to work in a field they’ve identified as a potential profession.
The Vo-Tech Co-Op Program bolsters St. Luke’s supply of employees who hopefully will stay at the hospital or return there after college, or other training, for higher-skilled positions to fill hard-to-recruit roles, said Georgina Winfield, the Network’s director of Volunteer Services and Student Relations.
“This collaboration allows students to complete additional competencies coordinated between the hospital and school,” said Connie Muschko, BAVTS School-to-Career coordinator. “With both organizations supporting student engagement in the classroom and hospital, they enter the workforce in an advanced position due to their involvement in this wonderful, educational experience.”
Becca Taney, a 17-year-old Freedom High School senior, who wants to be a nurse, is working in St. Luke’s Bethlehem Campus ER after school.
She wheels patients up to nursing units. She takes vital signs. She even helps nurses hook patients with chest pain up to EKG machines and perform the diagnostic test on them to see if they’re having a heart attack.
The ER is a perfect fit for Taney. “This is my future career as a nurse,” she said. “There’s so much you get to see and learn here, something every day.”
She plans to study nursing at DeSales University next year.
Brandon Koch, an 18-year-old senior at BAVTS is cleaning heat and air conditioning handlers on a patient care unit to ready them for cooling season. The maintenance mechanic intern is picking up skills for work life after high school.
The students spend about four hours on each, or several, weekdays, practicing the skills while getting to know the people and places throughout the hospital, the network said.
Students like Taney take the Health Careers course at vo-tech, said Winfield, then “they put it into practice at SLUHN with help and encouragement from the nurses and administrators on the units where they’re assigned.”
Koch has been learning masonry at BAVTS. He is enthused about working and learning at St. Luke’s, which could become a career, she said.
Art Steward, plant operations supervisor, said people like Koch are key to keeping the hospital running smoothly. He should know; he graduated from BAVTS and has worked at St. Luke’s for 41 years and is planning to retire in the next two years.
Other long-time engineering staff have the same plans to step away from their careers soon, so the need for replacements is high, the network said.
But Steward said he believes that these teens will be able to continue in the able shoes of the 50 “zone mechanics” St. Luke’s employs. During the workday, they might do plumbing, carpentry, painting, electricity and more with guidance from Steward or zone mechanics Jose Mangual or Frank Miravich.
“They’re doing great, learning quickly and using good communication and customer service skills,” Steward said.
Taney’s supervisor/mentor, Emergency Department Director Matt Weintraub is delighted with her attitude, aptitude, and interpersonal skills.
“She’s special, energetic, fantastic,” he said. “She learns quickly, like a sponge.”
“The opportunities afforded to the students are second to none,” said Jenifer Stilgenbauer, BAVTS Health Careers instructor. “They are getting real-world experiences in their chosen field while getting paid, and they help filling openings at the hospital. Current and future students at BAVTS can see where a technical education can take them, too.”
“We bring them in and hope to eventually hire them. They can stay on here right after graduation or during college if they want. … They get a foot in the door here, and that may turn into a career,” Winfield said.