On a recent Wednesday afternoon, job-seekers crowded a hushed room at Jewish Vocational Services’ (JVS) career center, while another dozen had to be turned away at the door. Packing chairs to the last row, the lucky ones took out notepads and smoothed skirts and ties, in anticipation of the arrival of two recruiters from Children’s Hospital – a tantalizing gateway to the 575 jobs available at the hospital that very moment.

The event was just one of a host of programs organized by the Healthcare Initiative at JVS, a long-time recipient of Office of Workforce Development (OWD) funding. The initiative, which recently concluded its first year, is a coordinated effort to connect job-seekers with positions in the healthcare industry – Boston’s largest and second-fastest growing labor sector.

“If we’re a good career center, we’ve got to be receptive to hiring trends and the bigger economic picture in Boston,” said Susan Buckey, director of the Healthcare Initiative. “Healthcare employers are looking for good people, and we want to help supply them.”

The healthcare industry is a particularly promising field for Boston’s disadvantaged workers. A new labor report commissioned by the OWD found that the healthcare and social assistance field, unique among the city’s other growing sectors, offers a broad range of living-wage jobs for applicants across the educational attainment spectrum. A worker with no college degree but some experience in a healthcare support occupation, for example, can make an average income of nearly $43,000.

Healthcare Initiative job fair
Job-seekers and healthcare employers meet at an October job fair hosted by the Healthcare Initiative at Jewish Vocational Services’ career center, CareerSolution, in downtown Boston.
Photo Credit: Bellie Hacker

The Healthcare Initiative, which launched just over a year ago, offers a diverse array of services at JVS’ CareerSolution career center to those with an interest or background in healthcare. In an introductory workshop, those just starting in the industry learn about entry-level and mid-level career options. In networking groups, participants exchange application tips and job search strategies; in one-on-one career coaching sessions with Buckey, they can craft a plan for attracting the attention of healthcare employers. Drawing on her connections in the healthcare industry, Buckey also organizes recruiting events and job fairs that bring employers and would-be employees together into the same room.

Elaine Kazerman, a job-seeker who attended the Children’s Hospital recruiting event, is grateful for those interpersonal opportunities.

“Ten, twenty, thirty years ago, an applicant could make an immediate and direct introduction to a company – just walk in, ask for an application, and maybe get an interview,” Kazerman said. “That era has disappeared entirely. So when JVS can bring recruiters in to meet with candidates like me, that’s rare and wonderful. We could never get to these companies on our own.”

At the Children’s Hospital event, job-seekers hungrily scribbled down the recruiters’ inside tips: If you don’t know which salary to request on the online application, type “negotiable.” Complete the online behavioral assessment within 72 hours of applying, or your application will be eliminated. At the interview, remember you’re in a hospital setting – no strong cologne.

All Healthcare Initiative offerings are free to participants. The initiative’s free professional trainings for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and pharmacy technicians are available to those who qualify for specific funding reserved for low-income applicants. Many participants qualify through scholarships from JVS or through Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) vouchers provided by the OWD. Another OWD funding stream, the city’s Neighborhood Jobs Trust, subsidizes some participants who are ineligible for WIOA vouchers.

Buckey points out that these professional training programs are unique career accelerators for those without college degrees. With continuing education, a person who completes CNA training, for example, can follow a career track toward becoming a licensed practical nurse and ultimately, a registered nurse.

The CNA training, which focuses on care for senior citizens, is reserved for those for whom English is not a first language. The training prepares participants, typically immigrants, for positions as home health aides or nursing assistants while simultaneously providing workplace-specific language instruction.

“You walk in and it’s like the United Nations,” Buckey said. “Almost every continent is represented.”

That kind of diversity is mirrored across Healthcare Initiative programming, which attracts candidates seeking everything from custodial work to PhD-level research positions.

Hyde Square resident Deborah Rohoman attended the Children’s Hospital event after being laid off from a data management position at a clinical trial data center. A middle-aged immigrant from Barbados, she has no college degree but nearly three decades’ experience in the healthcare industry.

“What on earth do I put on my resume?” she said. “I’ve been at the same position for 28 years.”

For Rohoman, the most helpful take-away from the event was information on searching available jobs at the Children’s Hospital website.

“There’s a lot I don’t know, because I’m not computer-savvy,” she said.

But she is already well on her way to learning more. The previous day she had attended a DentaQuest recruitment session.

“And I hear they [the career center] have vouchers you can get if you’ve been laid off,” she said. “I’m going to find out more on that next week.”

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