Area graduates help fill health care need

The fields of study for local graduates and the professions local employers are seeking point to one area of significant growth: health care.

Leslie Zoller graduated last week from the physical therapy assistant program at Washington State Community College. Zoller, 25, worked full-time while taking the two-year program, which adds credentials to the bachelor’s degree she already has in kinesiology from the University of Kentucky.

“I already have a job with Memorial Hospital,” she said. “We have state boards to take, which aren’t being held until July 9. I’ve been employed there and I’ll remain in the position I’m in now, and when I pass the board exams I’ll go to work as a physical therapy aide.”

Her coursework at Washington State Community College laid solid groundwork for the profession, she said.

“I definitely feel prepared, we do clinical rotations and learn from experienced clinicians,” she said. “Each rotation is a different experience, so you get a feel for every type of place you could work.”

Tanya Wade graduated last week from the respiratory therapy program, having gotten a student job at Marietta Memorial Hospital during the one-and-a-half year course.

Wade, 25 and originally from Alabama, previously worked as a phlebotomist and decided to return to school when her husband, a traveling lab tech, got a one-year assignment in Marietta. She said the way the course was laid out allowed her to determine early on whether the profession would be a good fit for her.

“I was confident, but I got to job-shadow and make sure it was for me,” she said. “This job can be emotionally taxing, and I really had to make sure it was what I wanted.”

After graduation, she said, she’ll be working full time at Marietta Memorial Hospital.

Like many graduates, she found that the training also gives her greater career flexibility.

“The beauty of respiratory therapy is that there are so many avenues with this degree – sleep study, home care … it opens so many doors, things you wouldn’t realize,” she said.

Zoller and Wade are among hundreds of WSCC graduates heading into health professions, which is an exact match to the primary demand in the area.

“For occupational areas, it’s nursing, and Memorial Health System really drives that train,” Flite Freimann, executive director of Ohio Job and Family Services in Washington County said Thursday. “Nursing homes, the medical field and allied health professions are the single biggest demand area here.”

Tasha Werry, district administrator of outreach for Marietta City Schools and facilitator for Building Bridges to Careers, said the Memorial Health System is more than medical professions.

“They have 400 different job titles there, for them it runs the gamut in terms of skills,” she said.

Graduate figures from Washington State Community College reflect that emphasis. Of the 1,623 associate degrees the college has conferred over the past six years, 34 percent have been in health sciences, vice president of institutional advancement Amanda Herb said Thursday. More than half the one-year certificates during the same period were in the health sciences division, she said, and 28 percent of the shorter term certifications were in health.

Of the associate degrees, 150 have been in nursing.

“Our workforce partners in health have indicated that they have a need for even more graduates,” she said. “That is what has led WSCC to develop the new EARN program, which is an additional pathway to becoming a registered nurse.”

The need for health care professionals is also reflected in the proportion of graduates at Marietta College in health sciences. Although petroleum engineering remains a major draw at the college for students, in the years from 2014-18, 17 percent of graduates opted for health-related degrees, with 143 of those earning masters degrees in physician assistant.

Skilled trades and transportation workers also make up a big part of the demand for workers, Freimann said, particularly truck drivers and mechanics. The Washington County Career Center offers Commercial Drivers License training through its adult technical center, although Freimann noted that there is a “disconnect” there for young students because most companies will not hire drivers younger than 25. Diesel mechanics remain in demand, he said, and are hired as fast as they graduate. Both the career center and the community college offer programs.

Manufacturing remains a big employer in the region.

Dana McClead graduated from the industrial technology program at Washington State Community College late last year and is now working for the Jefferds Corp. in Parkersburg, which manufactures a range of material handling equipment and other products. The two-year course broadly prepared him well for the workforce, he said.

“It was a little bit of everything, engineering, hands-on, CAD, how to run a lathe, manual machining and CNC programming – learning how to program machines,” he said. “It prepared me for different jobs, not just one specialty,” he said. MacClead, 24 and the father of an 11-month-old daughter, said he might consider going back to school for an industrial management degree.

He said he’s still in touch with instructors from WSCC.

“I felt like the college was really professional, they were there to help you out. The instructors had a lot of experience, they were always good about letting you know when there were job openings,” he said.

Both Werry and Freimann said that in addition to specific skills, employers are looking for general attributes often called “soft skills.”

“I call them the three As,” Freimann said. “Attendance, aptitude and attitude.”

Employers want workers who are reliable and show up on time, can learn new skills on the fly, and get along with people.

Werry said those “soft skills” – which also include proficiency in communication, critical thinking and problem solving – are at the top of employers lists for qualities they are seeking in workers.

That is one of the issues being addressed by local K-12 school districts, she said, in a project called Portrait of a Graduate.

“We’re using it to determine what success looks like in our region,” she said. “We want to determine what it is that our kids need to know, what we need to teach them to be successful in the new environment they’ll be going into. We have test scores, report cards, a lot of measurement tools from the state, but we need something we can take ownership of by choosing competencies and helping them make decisions.”

Freimann said the education system is becoming better synchronized with the needs of employers as time goes along.

“We’re really lucky here,” he said. “I know first hand they have a continuous process of reaching out and partnering with employers, asking them, ‘Are we training what you want?’ I definitely think we’re hitting the needs of the local area, in terms of graduates getting out there and getting into a good paying job.”

Washington State Community College, general areas of study for graduates, six years

Associate degrees:

• Health sciences: 34 percent.

• Arts and sciences transfer programs: 26 percent.

• Business technologies: 21 percent.

• Engineering and industrial technologies: 12 percent.

• Public service technologies: 8 percent.

One-year certificates:

• Health sciences: 55 percent.

• Business technologies: 24 percent.

• Engineering technology: 18 percent.

• Public services technologies: 4 percent.

Short term certificates:

• Engineering technologies: 56 percent.

• Health sciences: 28 percent.

• Business technologies: 16 percent.

Source: Washington State Community College.

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