Tuition-free healthcare occupational training is now an option for hundreds of individuals in the Ozarks, thanks to a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
The funding benefits the City of Springfield’s Department of Workforce Development in partnership with Ozarks Technical Community College. The coalition that applied for the grant says it seeks to support economic growth and strengthen the pipeline of the region’s skilled workers by providing training opportunities to unemployed, underemployed and disadvantaged populations.
Dr. Steven Bishop, OTC’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said Monday the grant offers career training for aspiring Behavioral Support Specialists, Nursing Assistants, and Registered Nurses.
“What this means to those students, their families, our communities, and ultimately the people they serve goes way beyond anything you can put a price on because it’s going to change their lives,” said Bishop.
In all, 372 individuals have the opportunity to earn an education for these occupations tuition-free. The school has begun accepting applications for these programs for fall 2017.
Bishop says the structure offers immediate job placement opportunities after training, adding that’s not always the case with certain occupations.
“With an Associates of Applied Science in Behavioral Health Support, there is an actual job geared for that degree. So they can walk out the door and there are hundreds of jobs in this area, specifically for this kind of worker.”
Dr. Paul Thomlinson of Burrell Behavioral Health says the organization serves some 35,000 people each year. Of that number, 5,000 have serious or persistent mental illness. This grant gives those individuals better access to care, he says.
“We could not be more excited that we will have a targeted program that will produce folks that will have been trained to competency level,” said Thomlinson. “At this point we hire folks with a degree with any kind of human services pretty much and train them on the job. We still have to do some of that, but this is an excellent opportunity for us to field folks very quickly and meet those behavioral health needs very quickly and with a high level of quality.”
Representatives from CoxHealth and Mercy, two other organizations expected to hire graduates of these programs, also spoke Monday.
Mary Ann Rojas, director of the city’s Department of Workforce Development, says the degrees and certificates stemming from the grant will reach many people at various levels.
“Whether they’re part-time jobs, whether they’re full time jobs, and the demand for those jobs is just going to increase. They’re also fairly well paying jobs from the entry level on up to a lifelong career,” says Rojas.
A new graduate of the Behavioral Health Support program can make as high as $33,000. The average salary of a registered nurse in Missouri is $56,950, and hourly rates for a Certified Nursing Assistant range from $9-$16.
Rojas says the Missouri Job Center, located in Springfield, will provide the core outreach to encourage enrollment.
“We have a diverse group of people that we work with. We kind of have our pulse on the community, know where those individual pockets of poverty may be, and can also reach those individuals that maybe don’t think they can but certainty have the skills, the talent and the ability,” she said.
The Deptartment of Labor’s America’s Promise grant program awarded 23 grants nationwide. The city of Springfield and OTC collaboration, dubbed Ozarks’ Promise, is the only grant recipient in Missouri.