How Partners Healthcare and Southern New Hampshire University are Providing College Certification Programs to Upskill Employees
According to a 2014 study from IBM, “75 to 80 percent of managers believe effective training is critical to project success,” and “skill levels linked to business value yield a 10 percent increase in productivity.”
To keep up with skills demand, increasingly more people are upskilling or going back to school after they’ve entered the workforce. Partners Healthcare has teamed up with Southern New Hampshire University to create an upskilling certification program to help Partners’ employees with workforce development.
Dena Lerra, Program Manager in the Workforce Development Department at Partners Healthcare, says the program can help their employees enhance their skills, keep up with changing job expectations, and even get promoted.
“Years ago a practice secretary at a doctor’s office might check in patients, check out, collect copays, schedule, you know, their next appointment. But due to many factors including our economic climate, tighter budgets, many hiring factors, these practice secretaries may have or now have expanded roles,” she says.
“So they may be working more closely with families, more closely with clinicians. Maybe even training clinicians on computer systems and also just doing a lot more with the patients and families and also behind the scenes.”
Upskilling or obtaining a degree can be difficult while you’re working full-time. So in collaboration with College for America, the certification program allows for learning and time flexibility. According to Melissa Goldberg, Director of Workforce Insights at Southern New Hampshire University, the program is self-directed, so participants can learn on their own time and pick which topics they need to focus on.
“The program was developed specifically to meet the needs of working adults and address changes and challenges they face with more traditional college programs,” she says. “The curriculum is all project based. Rather than letter grades, students actually demonstrate mastery in those competencies. And they do so by completing projects that are often offered in the context of a workplace.”
Listen in to our interview with Dena Lerra and Melissa Goldberg to learn more about how organizations can invest in employee education and development to help them grow personally, and to help meet market demand.
Hester Tinti-Kane: This is Hester Tinti-Kane with EdTech Times. And today we’re speaking with Dena Lerra of Partners HealthCare, and Melissa Goldberg of Southern New Hampshire University. They’re both featured speakers at our upcoming event, work+EDU. Welcome Dena and Melissa. So, could I have you start by introducing yourselves and tell us a little bit about your organizations? Dena, maybe you could start first, and tell us a bit about Partners.
Dena Lerra: I am a program manager in the workforce development department at Partners HealthCare. And it’s funny, it’s part of human resources, but we also report to the Community Health Department at Partners. And I manage programs that are geared toward community members. But I focus mainly on serving existing employees throughout the system. Regarding career development training, upskilling and trying to develop career pipelines for our workforce. And Partners HealthCare is a nonprofit healthcare system in Massachusetts. However, we are branching out to Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
Dena Lerra: We were founded in 1994 by our biggies, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Mass General Hospital. Many of our hospitals are teaching affiliates of Harvard Medical School. And our sites include community and specialty hospitals, managed care organizations, a huge physician network, community health center — some of our health centers are larger than, you know, small hospitals in the state. Home care and other health related entities. So overall, it’s almost 74,000 employees and growing.
Hester Tinti-Kane: That’s amazing. And Melissa, tell us a bit about your role and about Southern New Hampshire University.
Melissa Goldberg: So, Southern New Hampshire University is an 86-year-old private nonprofit institution. And we serve approximately 100,000 students annually, both on our campus as well as online. We have a long history of aligning our programs with the workplace. And so, in fact, I am the Director of Workforce Insights, part of our workforce partnerships team. And it’s my role to really examine the gaps and changes and innovations in the economy, and translate those to our academic teams to ensure our programs have relevance in the labor market.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Dena, if you could tell us a little bit about the partnership that Partners HealthCare and Southern New Hampshire University put together to develop this certificate in health care management fundamentals.
Dena Lerra: Yeah we’re going into five years now with our partnership with Southern New Hampshire University. So in workforce development, as I mentioned, we assist our employees, we assist our member institutions with helping to create upskilling solutions for all levels of our workforce. And in 2014, partners received a planning grant, and then subsequently an implementation grant, as part of the healthcare workforce transformation fund. This was administered by the secretary of the Office of Labor and Workforce Development and managed by the Commonwealth Corporation.
Dena Lerra: So we wanted to develop a curriculum plan for an online competency-based self-paced certificate program to prepare non-clinical staff for a revised expanded new roles. So it’s an example of that. So, you know, years ago a practice secretary at a doctor’s office might check in patients, check out, collect copays, schedule their next appointment. But you know due to many factors including our economic climate, tighter budgets, many hiring factors, these practice secretaries, like I said, for instance, may have or now have expanded roles. So they may be working more closely with families, more closely with clinicians. Maybe even training clinicians on computer systems and also just doing a lot more with the patients and families and also behind the scenes.
Dena Lerra: So we focused mainly on our ambulatory practices at our two largest hospitals that are engaged in really what I just explained, our patient centered medical home transformation. And this was as a strategy to control costs and expand access and improve outcomes. So in collaboration with College for America and with the engagement of our practice leaders, our managers, clinicians and staff, the planning grant resulted in the identification of goals, competencies, and healthcare contextualisation that informs the design of the healthcare fundamental certificate program. And the pilot launched in April 2015. The grant funded mainly tuition, and it was for up to 70 employees.
Dena Lerra: We didn’t quite make 70. But we had we had money for that, and it was through December 2016. And Melissa will talk more about how the credits earned through the certificate are stackable into AA and BA programs at CFA.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Great. So Melissa, over to you. Tell us a little bit about this partnership from the Southern New Hampshire University side.
Melissa Goldberg: Sure absolutely. And so our partnership with Partners Healthcare and the development of the certificate program has really been so successful because of Partners’ commitment both to their employee development, and to, frankly to our collaboration. And we were so thrilled to have them reach out to us to work with them on the creation of the certificate program. We were very new at that point. And really excited about the opportunity to create and develop something innovative like this.
Melissa Goldberg: And so Dena and her colleagues were early adopters of this new and innovative College for America program. And really we had a real champion in Dena’s colleague M.J. Ryan within Partners, who really believed in the possibilities and knew how to get the support of leadership and inspire interest among the various employee employees across Partners HealthCare. And frankly we’ve had, all along, really clear communications across our organizations. We celebrated the successes together and really worked hard to address any challenges that that arose together. So in terms of College for America. So we actually refer to it as CFA, and the program was developed specifically to meet the needs of working adults and address changes and challenges they face with more traditional college programs. And so CFA programs are, as Dena pointed out, they’re built on competencies which are informed by labor market data and industry input. The curriculum is all project based.
Melissa Goldberg: And rather than letter grades, students actually demonstrate mastery in those competencies and they do so by completing projects that are often offered in the context of a workplace. And students work at their own pace. They complete as much curriculum as they can during six-month terms. They advance quickly through subjects that they already know. And they’ll take more time to learn about those that they don’t know a lot about. And although the program is self-directed, students receive personalized support from advisors who help them set goals, address any challenges they might be facing. And we offer a number of CFA programs at the certificate, associates and bachelor’s level. Including the healthcare suite that Dena referred to, which is comprised of stackable credentials from the certificate, which amounts to one half of an associate’s degree that stacks into an associate’s degree. Then in turn, stacks into a bachelor’s degree. And we also offer associate degrees in general studies with concentrations in business, and transforming the customer experience. And bachelor’s degrees in management and communications with a variety of different concentrations.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Thanks for that detail, Melissa. Dena, over to you. Tell us a little bit about the progress Partners is making — the employees at partners are making — with this certificate program.
Dena Lerra: Our employees have really had great success of the certificate. Like Melissa said, we’ve celebrated graduations at our different health centers at our main campus at the Brigham. Managers are very, very much involved with helping their students through the program and and providing feedback.
Dena Lerra: So 58 of our employees enrolled. 19 have completed. Four are active, and most of those have only one semester left. And seven of the 19 graduates have entered into College for America’s AA or BA degree program. So there we go, you know, we’re talking about the pipeline here. 19 program participants have been promoted. So two of them were promoted twice over the course of their participation in the program. So overall there have been 20 promotions amongst all 19 employees. And there may be a few more. We break down data every six months or so. So there may be a few more. But I mean, a 33 percent completion rate is great, and especially for a pilot program like this. But over time, because we’ve had such a fantastic collaboration with Southern New Hampshire University College for America, now we’ve modified the assessment and the onboarding processes. And we’ve stayed in very close communication with the folks who run the program at College for America in hopes that the success rate, once really, fully rolled out, will look better.
Dena Lerra: So in regard to the key components to making, you know, this successful for Partners. So we’ve had the pre- kind of, not a prerequisite really, but for Partners, we have something called an Online College Preparation Program, the OCPP. And this is a program for any employee who wants to enter into, not just the certificate, but the AA or BA programs through College for America. And components are online readiness, time management, study skills. So it helps the employee kind of get a feel of what it’s like to take an online class. And really determine if online learning is right for them.
Dena Lerra: And local coaching and advising. There are folks on site here at Partners that work concurrently in conjunction with the academic advisors at College for America to help our students or employees be successful in just communication. So, you know, if you can, a dedicated staff member to interact with the students, like I said, and the partner, is critical.
Hester Tinti-Kane: So Melissa, on your side, this is obviously one example of other work Southern New Hampshire University has done with other organizations. So how does Southern New Hampshire work with organizations to make sure that the development of the programs are successful, and that the employees themselves are successful from an academic standpoint?
Melissa Goldberg: We have a whole division as part of the university called Workforce Partnerships. And through Workforce Partnerships we pair each partner, each employer partner we have, with a dedicated liaison who works really on a day to day basis to determine the right solution for that particular employer partner and their workforce — their employees — and provide them with the necessary resources and answer any questions they might have. We also offer and provide ongoing dedicated marketing resources to really aid in this information sharing and to help get employees enrolled. Then we have our Learning Insights Team, of which I’m a part, conduct in-depth data collection. We support our partners by developing dashboards and surveys designed to help them see the impacts on their organization. And so really looking at things like increases in employee engagement, higher retention, or reduced absenteeism.
Melissa Goldberg: But we also measure the working learner outcomes. Things like their persistence and completion, advancement to the next credential. You heard Dena talk about some of the graduates of the certificate program enrolling, for example, in the associate’s or bachelor’s degree. And then also we ask and learn about the relevance of our programs to the employees work. Both from that employer working learner perspective, but also from their manager’s perspective. Do their managers see a difference in the skills of their workforce? Are these working learners eligible for promotions more often? Have their educational and career goals changed?
Melissa Goldberg: And we’re hearing from our employer partners about their needs. And we’re always looking to innovate and offer them and their workers more different kinds of things. So for example, right now we’ve just expanded our offerings, so that our employers and their workers have access to over 200 course-based online degree programs that we offer. And we’re creating some new more flexible offerings such as microcredentials. And we’re really excited about these and looking forward to rolling them out on very soon.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Thanks for getting into all of those details about how the programs are developed successfully, and how the employees themselves are able to make progress academically. In the end, I think that this story between Partners Healthcare and Southern New Hampshire University is a very interesting and innovative story about how an organization can basically feed and upskill their employees so that they’re able to stretch and grow to meet the market demand. So Dena, back to you for this final question. If you were to advise other employers to begin an upskilling program like this one, what sort of advice would you give them?
Dena Lerra: Sure. Well I always like to say in workforce development, you know, we can’t be experts in every topic. There is a process that many employers will use, and you know, do we stay in-house? Do we use our resources that we currently have? Or do we kind of work with a third party? Do we work with an employer partner? So, you know, in choosing a partner, you want to choose a partner with the same goals, the same idea ideology as yours. Sometimes again, you have to think about resources. You need to think about time and space. And if it’s an online program, there are other components that go with that.
Dena Lerra: So my suggestion, if you do work with an employer partner, you need to get to know the leaders, the instructors, the internship managers, all players involved. With our OCPP, we used a third party, the Online College Preparation Program. We used the third party to host the site. And we worked with another third party to help us with the content. Early on with the certificate program, we worked closely with Melissa and her team on helping to develop the curriculum to make sure that the content throughout the projects were consistent with, you know, what we were looking for here at Partners to help upskill our employees. And again, just to be involved. It would have been very easy for Partners to be hands off with College for America because we had already heard such wonderful things about them.
Dena Lerra: We were working with them on other projects. We trusted them. But we wanted to be involved in every step of the way and that has proven to be quite helpful. And to really, you know, this is taking a step further, but to celebrate the milestones and promote the successes. Whether it’s with the employees or it could be with the partnership. So make sure that your stakeholders, that your leaders, hear about what’s going on and just really again celebrate that.
Hester Tinti-Kane: Well thank you both for speaking with me today. It has really been a pleasure. And we’re looking forward to hearing you speak at Work+EDU. Thank you.
Melissa Goldberg: Thank you.
Dena Lerra: Thank you.
This podcast episode is sponsored by Commonwealth Corporation, Massachusetts’ public-private corporation focused on narrowing the skills gap and supporting the state’s businesses, workers, and learners.
To learn more about Commonwealth Corporation’s grant programs and Governor Charlie Baker’s Commission on Digital Innovation and Lifelong Learning, visit commcorp.org.
Mariel is a Boston-based freelance writer and audio producer who has covered news, technology and innovation for public media groups including WBUR and WGBH. Outside of work, she performs and writes spoken word poetry and voraciously reads true crime novels.